Song of Jerusalem is part of a series that never took off. I was working at the time with author and musician Yerucham Levi, in Jerusalem. We were going to make a series of ten illustrations for his book She’arim – שערים, which were to go hand in hand with texts from his book. It is a beautiful song about Jerusalem, with many elements in it driven from Midrashic and Kaballistic literature.
More recently, this painting has turned into a new tour called A Winter’s Tale about Chanukah and Purim. Here is a video that discusses some of these issues, and in which Ieature this painting:
The text is (c) copyrighted to Yerucham Levi and his book שערים (Gateways). An attempt at translation below.
שער חמדת ירושלים
חיי יום יום: אחדות ישראל
פנינת חן, מארת, פוריה, יפת-מראה, מהוללה, ירושלים, אבן פינה מאירה, ירושלים שירה.
עיני עולם בירושלים צופיה, ציפורים מצייצים שיר, ירושלים תפילה.
כל עשב, ציץ ופרח, נושמים אווירת ירושלים רינה.
ירושלים: מים, חלב, שמש, לחם, תאנה, קסם, מתק-דבש, שיכרון ירושלים – יין עתיק ישן.
Translation (my own work, and I am not so satisfied with it, but it gets the point across):
Gateway: Cherishing Jerusalem
Daily life: Unity of Israel
A beautiful pearl, radiant, fruitful, beautiful to behold, praised – Jerusalem, a bright cornerstone, Jerusalem – of song.
The eyes of the world behold Jerusalem, birds sing a song, Jerusalem of prayer.
Every grass, bud and flower, breath the air of the chant of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: water, milk, sun, bread, fig, magic, honey-sweetness, [the] intoxication of Jerusalem – an ancient, vintage wine.
Meanwhile, I will attempt to highlight the main components of the song, as I was able to relate to them. The entire song is about Jerusalem being a song manifest. Birds are singing to Jerusalem, and its walls are pearly white. The way I drew them is inspired by Dr. Seuss.
- The fig tree, which symbolizes long-lasting fruitfulness.
- “Challah” or bread, an icon of the Jewish Sabbath, and also being a source of sustenance.
- Milk and Honey – need I explain? The milk and the water mix and there is a tunnel under the tree to illuminate that difference. An artistic solution to an overwhelming amount of motifs.
- Fresh spring water emerging out of the fig tree. This is inspired by a famous fig tree in Israel, which has a spring coming out of it. The song itself just describes water coming out of Jerusalem, which is probably related to the prophecy about water coming out of the Temple Mount. See Ezekiel 47:2.
- Olive Oil and Wine. I mixed these two in an orb, or globe, on top of which the city sits. Though I am not fully sure what the author intended, to me the two are a representation of energy and investment. I’ll explain:
Olive Oil – The motif of Olive Oil is replete in Jewish philosophy, law and kaballah, as well as history. Chanukah, for example, is a holiday in which we celebrate the “Hidden Light” of Creation. Or Zecharia’s perplexing description of Olive Oil representing the modality of God will being carried out in the world. In short, it is about potential energy. It is representing raw, pristine energy, or the very Will of Creation.
Wine – What is a more Jewish motif than wine? Every Sabbath, Holiday, celebration and even types of mourning, integrate wine. Wine is seen as both a potential greatness, or great loss. See Yoma 76b, Sanhedrin 70a.
Wine is unique in being an expression of the ultimate reward for the faithful commitment to the process of history. See Isaiah 64:4 and Berakhot 43b.
What a perfect representation for this idea: Every investment, toil and suffering, every joy and understanding, integrated into a totality of a whole creation. Wine is an expression of every hour of sunlight, temperature and cold night, the exact type of soil, its fertility, and altitude. So much goes into the creation of each batch, and no two are the same. Indeed, there is grandeur in this view of wine.
Indeed, Jerusalem of Song, or energy and light, of history, and of life.
Disclaimer: At the time, I was going back and forth about changing my family name “Selavan” back to “Cohen”, as it was five generations ago in Ukraine. To my great dismay, I signed it “Nachliel Cohen”, a hallmark of that stage in my life. I am happy to be over it.
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- Jerusalem of Song. Watercolor and pastel on paper, approx. 50x70cm