Murals are part of the Israeli landscape. Thousands of works of art - paintings, reliefs, mosaics and other art forms and techniques can be found on the walls of public buildings, both inside and out. Some were created by well known artists, but many are folk expressions by local or incidental artists. These murals tell a tale and depict the multifaceted tapestry of Israeli society, the history of the modern settlement of Eretz Israel and its cultural heritage.
Modern-day murals flourished in the 1950’s after the establishment of the State of Israel, adorning synagogues and public buildings, mostly in agricultural settlements. Artists utilized local materials and attempted to imitate ancient methods such as mosaics and ceramics.
Yaakov Stark, Ades Synagogue, Jerusalem, 1912
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design artist Yaakov Stark (1881-1915) completed his monumental mural at the Ades Synagogue in the fall of 1912. The synagogue was built in the Nachalat Zion neighborhood of Jerusalem by Jews of Syrian descent from the city of Aleppo. The walls feature the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the signs of the zodiac and the fruits with which the land was blessed, against a background of Stars of David and menorahs, symbolizing the ancient vision of returning to Eretz Israel.
Stark’s niece, Prof. Ruth Ben-Israel wrote of the first Zionist dictionary of shapes that he created on the synagogue walls: “Artist Yaakov Stark expressed the modern Hebrew art which was coming into being. When he decorated the Ades synagogue he used Hebrew letters to cast formative and symbolic meaning into his works, incorporating them into guilloche patterns of symbols of the tribes and flowers of Eretz Israel.”
Over the years, the murals that adorned the walls and ceiling were covered and only portions at the top of the eastern, northern and southern walls remained. The mural was greatly damaged during renovations in 2009 and in 2010 the Ministerial Heritage Plan Committee and the Jerusalem Municipality decided to restore and preserve the mural as a national heritage site. Sections of the mural along the bottom and on the ceiling were discovered during work by the Israel Antiquities Authority, including pomegranate decorations, architectural details and old-new Jewish symbols.
Avraham Ofek, The Circle of Life, Kfar Uriah, 1970
The mural at Kfar Uriah is one of six massive murals painted by Avraham Ofek (1935-1990) throughout Israel. The Circle of Life mural at the Kafr Uriah community center covers three walls measuring 3 x 12.5 meters and tells the story of Israeli society: one wall features the Aliyah tale, the second depicts the building of Israel and the third shows the Jewish family and traditions. The mural was commissioned by the Moshavim Movement and Ofek planned the layout for 11 years, before it was even decided that it would be in Kfar Uriah. The actual work took several months, during which Ofek lived on the moshav to express his belief that art should be taken out of museums and presented proudly in public spaces to benefit the people and with their participation.
Gradually the mural became worn due to natural causes as well as utilization of the community center, and it required restoration. During the winter of 2016, Arco Conservation and Restoration restored the mural as part of a national project to preserve murals/wall art.
Afia Zecharia, The Painted House, Shlomi (1980-2000)
In the heart of one of the Amidar housing projects in the town of Shlomi lies Afia Zecharia’s small and special apartment. She passed away in 2000. The stunning bright colorful walls of the apartment create the illusion of one large tapestry. Warm colors and geometrical decorations cover the walls, the ceiling and the floor as well as the furniture and the doors. The walls tell the fascinating story of an extraordinary woman and naïve artist who created an entire world, inspired by community and culture. Zecharia’s life story is that of a Yemenite woman in the 20th century, including Aliyah to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet, settling first in a transit camp and then in an impoverished neighborhood. In her old age she became reclusive, enclosed within her four walls and as her world became narrower, more monotonous, alienated and gray – her creativity burst forth and she created a spectacular, rich miniature world filled with color and hypnotizing charm. The Painted House in Shlomi is an expression of the historical, national and cultural reality of the 20th century that Afia Zecharia lived in its entirety.
Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa
Director of the Visual History, Curator and Documentation Department