Song of Jerusalem

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.
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Translation (my own work, and I am not so satisfied with it, but it gets the point across):
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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.
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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.

To order prints, please contact me via email. Until the site is properly set up.

Jerusalem of Song
Jerusalem of Song. Watercolor and pastel on paper, approx. 50x70cm

Lions of Jerusalem

The lions of jerusalem. I was their caretaker, or “apotropus”, as I liked to say, for five years. That’s a joke that you’ll get when you know the talmudic adage “there is no apotropus for arayot“.

How did I get started? Well, these lions were a big deal, back in 2002. Not unlike the Chicago cows in 1999 (I happened to be there), a large amount of standing or sitting lions were decorating Jerusalem, each individually painted. Here is an article I found about it.

While you may spot the occasional lion still hanging around, they have been mostly bought and moved. Two of them were bought by a Mr. and Mrs. Hakimian from Jerusalem, and placed on Misgav Ladakh st. in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Jerusalem. When in the Jewish Quarter, they are on the right hand side before you descend the main staircase to the Western Wall, or the Kotel.

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Cousins

They were placed there, facing the mount of olives, where Mrs. Hakimian’s sister, Mrs. Makovsky, is buried. Her sister loved children, and Mrs. Hakimian wanted to honor her sister’s legacy and place something for children to play with. However, there is a lot of wear and tear from tourists – young and old – touching and climbing the lions. So there is a municipality contractual agreement with Mrs. Hakimian that she is responsible for the upkeep and “well being” of the lions.

As it turns out, Mrs. Hakimian was friendly with the grandmother of my classmate, Yonatan. Yonatan asked me if I’d be interested in a painting job, since there current painter and “lion caretaker” was on maternity leave. I took the job, thinking it was just a painting job. Little did I know…

As an artist, I do get interesting jobs, which go beyond the occasional mural and construction work. This one involved learning which paints to use to withstand the weather, and wear and tear, the occasional car backing into the lions and smashing off a piece, and sadly enough, vandalism. I’ve had to deal with several of those, many times over. I got better over the years. One morning, for example, I strolled by the lions to see how they are doing, and I saw this:

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Vandalism

That is no accident. Somebody intentionally destroyed it. For what purpose? Why? I do not know. And as you can see, this is after I already fixed it once. I learned how to use epoxy, a special type of clay that comes in two colors. When you mix the two, they form a putty that hardens like rock within an hour, and an be sanded down and perfected to make up the broken pieces. Below is an example of a facial reconstruction, before the epoxy is dry and ready to sand down and repaint.

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Make over for the lions

There are so many good stories that come with painting the lions. When I actually paint them, I have to close the area off, finding police fences and tape that will keep people out. The hundreds of tourists that stop by often stop to look, talk about Jerusalem and its connection to Lions – the symbol of the tribe of Judah, in which Jerusalem is located – and many times I’ve had fascinating conversations. I learned, for example, that “Assad” is Arabic for lion, el’malik el-hayatna – king of the animals.

Sometimes it gets crazy. Once, as I was actively painting the back of the lion, some children approached out of curiosity. This happens a lot. But they usually have the common sense to stay behind the tape, or not to touch. One kid, however, decided to start climbing up the lion, while I was painting the very place he was trying to put his hands to climb. What would you do? Well, I kept painting, right over his hand. That got his attention, and a good laugh from his siblings, as it turns out.

Now here is the difficult part: The paint can take 6-12 hours to dry. What’s the problem? Well, people’s curiosity and desire to climb the lions. So I had to be very, very clear that the paint was wet, and shouldn’t be touched. I placed three police metal fences round the lions, with tape surrounding it, and a “wet paint – don’t touch” sign in three languages. Next morning, when I came to survey the lions, I found that the signs and fences have been moved, probably because they were in the way of the person who wanted to sit on the lions. As annoyed as I was, I was happy to see that their jeans were well imprinted on the damp paint. I hope they were expensive!

Anyway, those lovely five years were over, when I moved to New York in the summer of 2013. I did my final job, and passed the torch to a local artist. And with this I will end. Though I was required to stick to the classic lion colors – with some artistic license – I never went overboard. The frequency of having to upkeep and paint made it worthwhile to stick with a simple, clean coating, nothing complicated. The new artist, however, has taken the liberty to experiment with the lions. I’ve been getting the periodic update of Purim costumes, Pesach “crossing the sea” paintings on them, and lots more. Fascinating, though not my taste.

On my last visit in July 2016, I came to say hello to my lions. I hope they still recognize me!

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Space and Voice – הקול והמקום

Another parasha-related drawing (with darkened edges added by computer) which I did during a parasha class in Barkai Yeshiva, in 2014. The image depicts the space between the cherubim, from where emanated the Voice which spoke to Moshe (translation from Chabad.org)

שמות כה, כא-כב

וְנָתַתָּ אֶת הַכַּפֹּרֶת עַל הָאָרֹן מִלְמָעְלָה וְאֶל הָאָרֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר אֶתֵּן אֵלֶיךָ: וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ שָׁם וְדִבַּרְתִּי אִתְּךָ מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים אֲשֶׁר עַל אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּה אוֹתְךָ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Exodus 23:21-22:

And you shall place the ark cover on the ark from above, and into the ark you shall place the testimony, which I will give you. I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony, all that I will command you unto the children of Israel.

במדבר ז, פט

(פט) וּבְבֹא משֶׁה אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ וַיִּשְׁמַע אֶת הַקּוֹל מִדַּבֵּר אֵלָיו מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו 

Numbers 7: 89

When Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice speaking to him from the two cherubim above the covering which was over the Ark of Testimony, and He spoke to him.

20. הכרובים על הארוןPastel on paper פסטל על נייר

Emor: the blasphemer – ציור לפרשת אמור: המקלל

This is a dark drawing. Solemn.

Those who heard the blasphemer, must put their hands on his head, and then stone him to death.

ציור קודר. אפל.

השומעים את המקלל, סומכים את ידיהם על ראשו. ואחר כך יסקלוהו

הוֹצֵא אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְסָמְכוּ כָל הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה

ויקרא כד, יד

© Nachliel Selavan 2014
המקלל: גזר הדין
פסטל על נייר
The blasphemer: the verdict
pastel on paper.

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum הרב יואל טייטלבוים

© 2006 Nachliel Selavan
Rabbi Yoel Teitelboum, pastel on paper, 45 x 45 cm

הרב יואל טייטלבוים (י”ז בטבת תרמ”ז13 בינואר 1887 – כ”ו באב תשל”ט19 באוגוסט 1979; כונה “ר’ יואליש”), היה מייסדה ואדמו”רה הראשון של חסידות סאטמר. הוא מילא תפקיד מרכזי בשיקום העולם החסידי לאחר מלחמת העולם השנייה, והנהיג קו שמרני ובדלני שדחה את המודרנה. בין היתר נודע כמתנגד קיצוני ובלתי-מתפשר של הציונות ואגודת ישראל. ידוע כבעל “ויואל משה” וה”דברי יואל” על שם ספריו.

את הציור הזה ציירתי כך לא מכרתי. לצערי, הוא נהרס בגשם…

Joel Teitelbaum (13 January 1887 – 19 August 1979) was the founder and first Grand Rebbe of the Satmar dynasty. A major figure in the postwar renaissance of Hasidism, he espoused a strictly conservative and isolationist line, rejecting modernity. Teitelbaum was a fierce opponent of Zionism, which he decried as inherently heretical.

This picture was not sold, and was unfortunately ruined in the rain.

Rav Natan Geshtetner הרב נתן גשטטנר

© 2006 Nachliel Selavan
Rav Natan Geshtetner. Pastel on paper. 50x50cm רב נתן גשטטנר. פסטל על נייר

הרב נתן גשטטנר ז״ל

היה רב, דיין ופוסק הלכה, ראש ישיבת פנים מאירות בבני ברק, ומחבר פורה של ספרים בהלכה, בתלמוד ובאגדה.

התמונה הוזמנה אל ידי לקוח פרטי מבני ברק. ניתן להזמין הדפסים איכותיים דרכי.

Rav Natan Geshtetner z”l

Was a Rabbi, Dayan and Posek Halacha, Rosh Yeshivah of Panim Me’irot in Bnei Brak, and a writer of several books on Halacha, Talmud and Agaddah.

 Commissioned by private client from Bnei Brak. Quality prints may be ordered through me

Parashat Beshalach: Bitter waters turn sweet פרשת בשלח: מי מרה נמתקים

© 2014 Nachliel Selavan
The bitter waters turned sweet. Pastel on paper. 50x70cm

וַיָּבֹאוּ מָרָתָה וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה כִּי מָרִים הֵם עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ מָרָה: וַיִּלֹּנוּ הָעָם עַל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר מַה נִּשְׁתֶּה: וַיִּצְעַק אֶל ה’ וַיּוֹרֵהוּ ה’ עֵץ וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶל הַמַּיִם וַיִּמְתְּקוּ הַמָּיִם שָׁם שָׂם לוֹ חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט וְשָׁם נִסָּהוּ: (שמות פרק טו, כג-כה)

Moshe throwing the log into the bitter (greenish toxic looking) water, which turns into clear sweet water