Discover Israel through a camera lens as a tour guide

“Life is fleeting, everything is fleeting,” says Yonit Schiller. “As a photographer, I strive to capture the essence of a second in a single frame. Photography is an escape in time because it allows the moment to linger. I find it rewarding. For me, the goal is to suspend this moment in time.

She describes the image she took of a Bedouin girl. Years ago, Yonit and his friends were on a tour of the Sinai desert when they stopped for tea in a Bedouin tent. “Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a young girl walking towards us through the desert. As she approached, I could see that she was on a mission – that she was going to have to go through barbed wire to reach where we were. And very casually, the girl lifted the thread with one hand and continued to walk. There she was, walking and lifting an obstacle and passing it.PHOTOGRAPH BY Yonit. (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

Yonit was born in the city of Safed in 1982 and had a happy childhood in Kibbutz Yiftah until the age of four, when her family moved to Jerusalem. After two years, at the height of an economic recession, the family moved to Buffalo, New York.

Growing up in Buffalo as a member of the Jewish minority was a change for Yonit. “I was proud of my roots and my heritage, and I knew I would return to Israel one day,” she says.

She moved to Toronto to study at York University and obtained an Honors BA in History and Religious Studies. In first year, she was given the key to a small dark room hidden on campus where she would develop her black and white negatives and prints.

“Working in the darkroom for many hours to develop a handful of images was a form of meditation for me,” Yonit explains. “I was excited to see the paper in the developer come to life as an image suddenly appeared. Today that process of expectation and anticipation has been replaced by instant gratification via digital media.

Eventually, she would turn a hobby into a profession.

After graduating from college, Yonit spent a year in Israel learning in a seminary in Jerusalem. While walking through Mahaneh Yehuda’s market one day, her camera still handy, she noticed a store owner, seemingly resigned and exhausted, about to sit down. He crossed his arms, craned his head and rested, surrounded by his vegetables. Yonit took the photo. Almost a decade later, after moving to Israel, she returned to the market and found the same man in the same position, at the same time: arms crossed, head bowed, resting, surrounded by his vegetables. A reflection on life.

After her year in Israel, Yonit accepted a teaching position at a Jewish school in Boston and immersed herself in the community. She explains: “This formative experience would ultimately serve as a catalyst for my pursuit of a career in education.

At a crossroads in her life, Yonit reflected on her choices; how to synchronize his passion for photography, the Land of Israel, education and people. She considered her path. It was time for her to return to Israel. She moved from Buffalo to Jerusalem in 2006, at the start of the Second Lebanon War.

“I chose 7 Tamuz,” she says, “the same date my family and I left Jerusalem when I was a young girl to move to Buffalo.

In Jerusalem, she decided to continue her studies and obtained a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University. “After I graduated, I felt that guiding would be a way to harness my strengths and passions,” Yonit explains. She enrolled in the guide course and received a tour guide license from the Department of Tourism in 2013. Over time, she created Lion of Zion Tours.PHOTOGRAPH BY Yonit.  (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)PHOTOGRAPH BY Yonit. (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

For Yonit, guiding means cultivating connections with the Land of Israel and, on a deeper level, using the country as a vehicle for introspection and self-discovery.

In March 2014, she joined a mass rally of more than 400,000 Haredi demonstrators who had gathered from across the country at the entrance to Jerusalem, to protest a new bill that would have required compulsory military conscription for yeshiva students.

“I arrived on the scene, the only female photographer in a sea of ​​black and white,” Yonit recalls. “As I made my way through the crowd of men, I came across a soldier standing in the middle of the crowd, a flash of green in a black and white scenario. As I took the photo, yeshiva boys turned to look at him in amazement.

“It was a study in contrast. A soldier among the haredim, an army uniform in a sea of ​​black suits and white shirts. A story is never just in black and white. There may be shades of green. There are nuances.PHOTOGRAPH BY Yonit.  (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)PHOTOGRAPH BY Yonit. (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

The camera lens is a tool through which Yonit not only sees the world but engages in it. She brings her thoughts, emotions and instincts with her as she documents life experiences, rites of passage and landscapes.

Whether photographing or guiding, Yonit celebrates life. Her love for her job resonates with others. She strives to emphasize the power of contrast and connection, and portrays the essence of a single moment in one frame.

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