So if you’ve spend any significant time in the Old City of Jerusalem, you should know who “Cowboy” is, AKA “Zadi Nati” or simply: Nati Charles, the Prince of Tales.
Uncle Nati and Babi Irma, of blessed memory, have been part of my life since I was very young. It started with a connection to my father who made an accidental phone call around 1979. Since then, we’ve been close. Nati, who was a WWII Pilot, also taught me fencing, knife throwing, and all about the Masai. He is one of the coolest people you will meet.
So Uncle Nati and his wife, Nechama, asked me to paint an “Ein Gedi” style mural in their bedroom. It took me half a year to complete it, mostly because I was very busy. I took two days to do the first part, and left it in reasonably presentable fashion for the next six months or so. Below are some highlights form the process, from beginning to end.
The fun part in day 2 was that my first cousin was spending the summer at my parents’ home. He was looking for something to do so I put him to work, Karate Kid style. “Paint the fence: up – down!” even though what comes to mind for all of us is “Wax on, wax off!” You can hover over the collage images to see individual captions:
End of day 1
Reminds me of Karate Kid: “Paint the fence, up – down!”
Cousin helping out
End of day 2
Finishing touches: The Gazelle
Signed it by the stairs
Finally, we can relax!
Almost as if I was in Ein Gedi
At the end of day 2, it was basically done, I thought. But there was a whole area behind the entrance door which was left blank. Nati and Nechama could not decide what they wanted on it. Meanwhile, they decided they want to have a gazelle, to give the authentic Ein Gedi look. I was in college, hard pressed finding time to work on any painting, all the more so a mural. But you know, it’s Uncle Nati!
Finally, I got my act together and added that cute little gazelle, and it was done! The sad part is that because of the shape of the bedroom and the lighting, it was very hard to get an angle on the entire wall. So you are seeing it in fragments. But if you want to see it for yourself, you’ll have to visit Nati and Nechama, in the old city. But be warned, you might be pampered.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
הרב יואל טייטלבוים (י”ז בטבתתרמ”ז, 13 בינואר1887 – כ”ו באבתשל”ט, 19 באוגוסט1979; 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.