Jewish art

New mural celebrating city’s Jewish community unveiled in Los Angeles

Artwork is part of a city-wide initiative highlighting different communities and cultures; event was held in partnership with the local ADL chapter and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Footprints in the desert; pomegranates and safflowers; a parent and child; Los Angeles County landmarks in silhouette; and a woman lighting Shabbat candles, against a backdrop of various hues of blue. The flames of the candle spell out “L’Dor Va’Dor” in Hebrew letters, to acknowledge the impact of various generations of Jewish Angelenos. These and other images constitute “The Common Thread,” a mural designed by Iranian-Jewish muralist and native Angeleno Cloe Hakakian that integrates Jewish tradition, Jewish history and the Jewish present in Los Angeles. 

The wall-sized mural in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood is the first in the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations’ LA vs. Hate’s project “Summer of Solidarity,” an initiative that celebrates diversity in the city and comes at a time of rising antisemitism in Los Angeles and the nation. It was commissioned during Jewish American Heritage Month in May, and was unveiled on Sunday at a press conference and block party at the corner of Glenville and Pico, held in partnership with the Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

A recent ADL report found 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States in 2022, a 36% increase from 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. Among the incidents were the separate shootings of two Jewish men on consecutive days in Pico-Robertson.

Under a scorching mid-afternoon sun, both Jewish and civic community leaders shared words of encouragement for the community and awe for the mural, which measures 328 inches wide by 189 inches high and is protected against fading and defacement by MuralColors’ Preservation Coatings, all environmentally safe materials designed to remove any tagging or overpainting. 

Robin S. Toma, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations Commission, presented “a vision of common aspirations” for a diverse, inclusive and equitable county community. He noted that antisemitic incidents have risen 30%, and reminded the assembled that anyone witnessing or experiencing hate does not have to take it to the police; instead they can dial 2-1-1 or visit, where 24/7 help is available in any language. 

With the mural project, Toma said, “We hope to create safe spaces for the community to connect with each other across identities. This is a time that we need to strengthen and showcase that unity within our county is much stronger than hate.”

Cesar Echano, who was the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime in 2020, said he is getting better because of support from the community and the media. “We have no place in our community for hate, for racists, for discrimination,” Echano said. “We stand for unity, we stand for freedom, we stand for humankind, we stand for human rights, we stand for love and peace.”

Calling the Jewish community “strong and resilient and diverse,” L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said that “there’s no room for antisemitism, period…We have to root it out wherever it exists in all of its forms.” Horvath said she had called on the L.A. sheriff to collect data on acts of antisemitism over the last five years; now Jewish community leaders are expanding on that for all of L.A. County. 

Ilan Davidson, president of Commission on Human Relations — and a cantor in San Pedro, Calif., for the last 29 years — invoked the well-known Hebrew song “Gesher Tzar Me’od” (“The world is a narrow bridge”) — based on a teaching from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. He cited songwriter Elana Arian’s reinterpretation of Nachman’s line “the main thing is not to be afraid” as “the most important thing is on the other side of fear.” 

“What [Rabbi] Nachman meant was ‘Take your fear and channel it into something positive,’” Davidson said. “‘What will you do with your fear? What will you do when you are being attacked?’ This is what we do. We turn it into a positive demonstration and positive message that we as a community will not tolerate anyone causing fear for any of our communities here in Los Angeles.”

“Hate is pervasive everywhere, and we fight back with love,” said L.A. City Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky. She added, “The Jewish community is not an island. We stand in solidarity with every marginalized community.” 

State Sen. Ben Allen noted that the neighborhood where the event was held was peppered with landmarks of Jewish L.A., such as the Museum of Tolerance,  Young Israel of Century City, The Happy Minyan and Factors Deli, and was across from the future site of ETTA’s Bhatia Family Village, which will house adults with developmental disabilities. Allen called the mural “a wonderful symbol of love in the heart of our community.”

Jeffrey Abrams, ADL’s regional director, noted that according to the L.A. federation’s survey, half of L.A. households have one or more immigrants, and in 50,000 households, the entire household is from another country. “The Jewish community represents the same experiences of so many other communities in Los Angeles,” he said, mentioning the Latino, African American and AAPI communities as examples. “All of us are or were strangers in a strange land. We must continue to work together to make the city, the county, the state and this country reflect more of what we have in common than what sets us apart.”

The ideas for the mural came from two brainstorming sessions facilitated by an organization called MuralColors, to generate ideas for what elements and images would be included in the artistic mosaic. Facilitators asked community members leading questions like “where does your culture reside?” and “what do you wish others understood about your culture?” to guide participants in identifying their personal understandings of what comprises Jewish identity and culture in Los Angeles. 

The artist received the suggestions and over the course of 10 days created a mural that moved from abstraction to concrete imagery, extracting from the submitted words experiences that — together — illustrate the roots and experiences of Los Angeles’ Jews that explores collective memory. 

“The mural depicts a mother lighting Shabbat candles, with their flames illuminating the Hebrew script for L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation,” muralist Cloe Hakakian explained in a voice memo that was played at the event. “The folds of her headscarf become vignettes that celebrate the diversity of Jews within our community and the cultural experiences shared across time and place. There is a young child held in the arms of her mother as older generations stand behind her, each figure wearing a pattern from the diverse cultural diasporas in Los Angeles County. Footprints move through the desert toward a bright horizon, a metaphor for migration, healing, and resilience within the Jewish community. Silhouettes of culturally significant Los Angeles county landmarks sit on the horizon, reminding the viewer of the greater community within which the Jewish community thrives.”

Hakakian told the crowd that the artwork was “a direct product of the thoughts, feelings and emotions of individuals within the Los Angeles Jewish community…I hope that this mural shows the community that they are not alone and further even to those not in the community I hope that this mural can spark a conversation and inspire a positive change.”

Mary Kohav, the federation’s vice president of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) and community engagement programs, told eJP that “the way the patterns… bring out the history, foods that are symbolic, the shades of skin on the people who are displayed… It’s the power that art has to do something that dialogue or outreach doesn’t quite do.” 

After the formal presentation concluded, the celebratory block party featured musical performances by Mostly Kosher and We The Folk, food and refreshments, family-friendly activities and additional information about the LA vs Hate services and partners. 

The federation’s president and CEO, Rabbi Noah Farkas, told eJP that the event advanced the federation’s growing partnership with other organizations. “We’ve lived in a world of Jewish competition for a long time, and the ADL and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles are pioneering a new cooperative stance. This mural and LAvsHate is a perfect example of the synergies.”

LA vs Hate is commissioning and revealing new murals celebrating different communities and cultures across the county throughout the summer, partnering with community organizations along the way. The next two are in July in South L.A. featuring the Black community’s long history battling racism in L.A., and in August, honoring the LGBTQ+ community in Long Beach’s Bixby Park.