Matan Wax tried playing piano. He tried drawing. But it wasn't until he came to Provo that Wax had the opportunity to try photography.

Wax discovered what he had long suspected: "This was the first artistic field I could do something that can be considered good."But Wax, 17, will have to only savor his experiences learning photography at Provo High School; real life calls him, and it probably will be decades before he can again unleash his shutterbug yearnings.

After 6 1/2 months in Utah, Wax returned to his homeland, Israel, over the weekend. It's a trip back to the uncertainties of the war-torn Middle East.

And it's a return to strictly academic classes that will prepare him for the matriculation exams he must take this month to mix university studies with compulsory military service.

His father, Danny, is a mechanical engineer who took a sabbatical leave from work at a defense-related factory in Israel to study at Brigham Young University. Danny and his wife, Ora, and another son will rejoin Matan in April.

Matan is not the only family member who was able to use the months in Utah to broaden an interest: Ora has been able to pursue her interest in handicrafts - learning tole painting, quilting and crocheting.

"I don't want to use the word paradise, but (Utah's) not far from it (for handicrafts)," she said. "This is the place."As Ora prepared to send her oldest son back to the family's home in Galilee, she wasn't too worried about the war, although knowing that Matan would have to procure a gas mask immediately was "like something beat you in your heart.

"I'm quite sure we'll overcome this situation," Ora said. "Jews are very good in a crisis. . . . My big feeling is not having him here."

It is not so much what Matan is going to as what he leaves behind that is on the family's mind.

"It's a pity because in Israel he's not going to photograph, develop pictures - at least for . . .," Ora said.

"A few decades," Matan finished. "I've always loved photography, but I've never done it. I knew this was my chance, and it was much more than I really expected.

"In high school (in Israel) they don't stress arts as they do here," he said. "They stress mathematics, physics, history."

Students in Israel don't have the opportunity to dabble in different artistic fields as do students in America. Individuals with artistic talent, who plan to pursue careers in the arts, enroll in special schools.

Matan plans to get degrees in mathematics and computer science. It was a lifetime opportunity while in Utah to indulge his interest in photography.

Matan began the year at Provo High School enrolled in several classes besides Lynn Poulter's photography class. The academic courses were too easy; Matan withdrew from all but the photography class, signing up for academic courses at BYU instead.

Under Poulter's tutelage, Matan blossomed.

"I thought he was really exceptional," Poulter said. "He just sat here and soaked stuff up like a sponge . . . I wanted him to have the best memory, the best chance while he had this facility here to work with."

Matan explains his attraction to the camera simply: "I can make a work of art. It is the only field I can do that. It just turns out pretty good."

"I wish I could stay here only for this," he said pointing to his photographs.

As for returning to his homeland and the tension there, Matan is matter-of-fact.

"It is not that I'm afraid to go there, it is just that everybody is concerned," he said. "We can't see the light in the end of the tunnel. There is more concern than fright - of how things will settle out, of the war getting messier. If this is as bad as it will get, that's not as bad as it could.

"One or two missiles shouldn't happen, but it doesn't threaten our existence," Matan said.