At the Jerusalem shuk you’ll taste the sweetest watermelon, tangiest pickles and stickiest chocolate rugalach. You’ll whooze from the smell of the most pungent of spices. But the Jerusalem shuk isn’t simply the largest market in the Middle East. Interested in a taste of Latin America, a burger, a tot from Ireland, a mug of beer? The shuk has something to tempt every palate. And late at night, or on Saturdays, when the shutters are down, the shuk becomes a street art gallery. Murals of famous historical and contemporary faces survey the passers-by. It’s the brainchild of artist Solomon Souza and producer Berel Hahn.
Artist from the Genes
There was no escaping destiny for 23-year-old Solomon Souza. His maternal grandfather was Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002), a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay and known as “The Indian Picasso.” His mother, Keren Souza-Kohn, is an artist living in Tzfat. Not surprisingly, Souza, who spent hours in his mother’s studio as a child in England, began drawing at an early age. “My mother encouraged me a lot. When I’d draw on the walls, she would stick up paper at my height to make it easier for me to work. When I’d draw on the floor, she’d slip a piece of paper under my pen,” Souza recalls.
After moving to Israel in 2010, Souza joined The RAP (“Rabbi Avtzon’s Program”), a yeshiva in the Nachalot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Here, 26-year-old fellow student Berel Hahn, originally from Crown Heights, approached him with the idea of turning the shuk into an art gallery. Like famed elusive street artist Banksy and Korean-American graffiti artist David Choe, Souza and Berel have made an indelible mark.
A Peek Behind the Spray Can
Souza uses Montana spray paints which come in cans with both fat nozzles and skinny nozzles for the fine work. “By now, I don’t need the skinny nozzles because I can control the fat ones sufficiently,” says Souza, giving us a glimpse into the technicalities behind the murals.
“What about the spirit?” I ask. “Is there a theme behind the murals?”
“Every single mural represents a person who stood up and did something courageous,” says Souza. “Yekutiel, an ex-roommate, is one of my role models. His feeling of deep responsibility to the Jewish nation motivated him to come and serve in the Israeli army. Then he persuaded his family to come and live here.”
Is Souza attached to any mural in particular? “My mother and I worked together on the mural of Henny Machlis,” he says.
Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, the Brooklyn-born girl who became a Jerusalem legend, hosted 100-150 in her apartment in Maalot Dafna, Jerusalem, for Shabbos meals every week of the year, except for the week of Pesach. Souza was one of those guests.
Usually, it isn’t difficult to get the permission of the shopkeepers to paint their shutters. That’s Hahn’s job. Some have even asked for a favorite rabbi or the family patriarch who was the original owner of their stall to be painted. Permission granted, Souza moves in. With most of the stores closing around 9.00, the shuk work is nocturnal. If things go well, Souza can paint a portrait in an hour to an hour and a half. On a good night, he can finish four murals.
And what about working with an audience? “I prefer to be alone,” admits Souza. “When you create something, you need to hear yourself think so that you can connect with your inner soul.” The solution? “I plug in my iPod and simply nod when I’m spoken to.”
So far, aside from a kick-start of $1,000 from a friend for paints, Souza and Hahn haven’t received support of grants from businesses and foundations or any help from the Jerusalem municipality. To date, Souza has completed 210 murals. Which leaves him with 130 shutters still left to paint. “We hope to open up the platform so that other artists in the city can showcase their work,” says Souza. Inspired by the murals of the social blazers that he has painted, Souza is moving on to motivate and inspire others.
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Stroll through the Shuk Gallery
A stroll through the shuk gallery will take you back to the beginning with its murals of the Seven Days of Creation. It will remind you of long-forgotten heroes and jog your memory with images of more recent ones. You’ll meet performers and artists. And sometimes you’ll feel the sting of acrimony.
Heroes from the Past: With an advertisement for Dudu’s Candy hanging above her, sixteenth-century businesswoman and benefactress Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510-1569) appears in regal costume. Her husband a prominent figure in the politics of the Ottoman Empire, Doña Gracia was one of the wealthiest Jewish women in Renaissance Europe. She used part of her wealth to develop an escape network that saved hundreds of Conversos from the Inquisition.
Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was an American poet best known for “The New Colossus,” a sonnet written in 1883. The sonnet was inscribed on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, a decade and a half after her death.
Heroes of the Present: David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) was the primary founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel. Ben-Gurion was known for his daily headstands on the beach.
Hannah Szenes (1921-1944) was a poet and Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper. Parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz, she was arrested at the Hungarian border, then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to reveal details of her mission. She was eventually tried and executed by firing squad. Wearing her military uniform with its paratrooper’s insignia, she stares off to the left below a fishmonger’s sign.
Zev Jabotinsky was a Russian Jewish Revisionist Zionist leader, author, poet, orator, and soldier.
Mahatma Gandhi (1833-1948) was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, and peeps out from under a kosher lemehadrin sign.
Si Ali Sakkat had been a government minister and mayor of Tunis. In 1940 he was enjoying retirement on his farm at the base of Jebel Zaghouan. There was a forced labor camp for the Jews not far away from Sakkat’s farm. One night, 60 Jewish laborers escaped and knocked on the gate of Sakkat’s farm. He hid them until the liberation of Tunisia by Allied forces.
Daniel Pearl (1963-2002) was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal with American and Israeli citizenship. He was kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists and later murdered in Pakistan.
Follow these links to view Souza’s work: