The heavily used Manhattan-bound bus stop on Jewel Avenue at Main Street now has an inspiring mural facing commuters waiting for the bus. “The landlord is a good friend and the neighbors were all for it,” said Chazaq CEO Yaniv Meirov.
Under Chazaq’s initiative, artist Meir Adika painted an image of the Kosel HaMaaravi (the Western Wall) with talis-clad worshippers underneath the Chazaq logo. The image appears on the roll-down gate between the Grill Point restaurant and Olam Realty Group, which is located downstairs from the Chazaq headquarters.
It is here where Chazaq plans its community-wide events and dozens of weekly after-school programs, along with their signature project: PSTY, public school to yeshivah, which encourages Jewish public school families with enrollment to yeshivos. It’s part of its mission of “building a stronger future.”
For older residents of Kew Gardens Hills, the mural’s artist and location are familiar. Nearly two decades ago, the site of Grill Point was a travel agency, and the wall facing Jewel Avenue next to the roll-down gate had a mural depicting the crowd of B’nei Yisrael receiving the Torah at Har Sinai. “I do not have photos of this mural,” said artist Meir Adika, who painted that mural and the new Chazaq mural at the same location.
Born in Israel, Adika said that his path towards fine art was natural, with guidance from a neighbor who was the director of the prestigious Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. He immigrated to Queens 35 years ago. Most of his works of art depict Jewish religious themes, with splashes of color reminiscent of the post-impressionist and fauvist genres. “I do Judaica, abstract, and Jerusalem motifs,” said Adika. “I have a painting of King David that took two years to complete, and a five-painting series that took six years.”
The reaction to the Chazaq mural has been positive from Facebook comments of local residents. “I noticed it walking the dog last week. I really liked it because it was Jewish street art,” wrote Jeff Kohn. He then asked if it would be possible to color hydrants on the sidewalk here in blue and white colors. “They do it in Italian neighborhoods with the Italian flag colors.”
Some of those who commented wrote that Adika is not a stranger to the community. He’s been selling his paintings on the Main Street sidewalk for years, and a few homes in the neighborhood have his works on their walls. “Go to the Shaarei Zion yeshivah on Grand Central Parkway. I worked on the interior mural. Visit Yeshiva Ohel Simcha on 72nd Avenue. I have a mural there, too.”
Judah S. Harris, the photographer from Kew Gardens Hills who now lives in Jerusalem, wrote about murals as a positive addition to the streetscape. “I’ve seen street art in a number of cities; there could be potential – but bring out the artists, to share their vision.” In Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market, dozens of previously nondescript roll-down gates feature the fantastic spray-painted works of Solomon Souza. It is perhaps the largest collection of Jewish-themed murals in one location.
The largest Jewish mural in New York is a photomosaic composition at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. There was also the Jewish Heritage Mural at 227 East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Designed in the 1970s by a team from the nonprofit CityArts organization, the three-story mural served as one of the cultural emblems of the historically Jewish neighborhood. It was unceremoniously whitewashed by a developer in November 2016.
Other sizable outdoor Jewish works of art in Queens appear on synagogues, such as the mosaics on the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills and the Rego Park Jewish Center, both of which depict elements of Jerusalem and holidays. The Yeshiva of Central Queens has a sizable building, but no art on its exterior walls. Inside, however, it is a different story. Its hallways are covered wall-to-wall with student murals depicting Jerusalem, including all the gates to the Old City.
The Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg perhaps has the greatest collection of mural paintings that include works by community organizations and commercial art promoting businesses and products. The great Jewish painter Marc Chagall has two murals at the Metropolitan Opera House: The Triumph of Music on the south side of the lobby, and The Sources of Music on the north side. They were both completed in 1966.
In Brighton Beach, the football field of Grady High School offers a view of Ben Shahn’s mosaic mural titled Science and the Humanities, dating to 1957. It features a quote from the Rambam: “Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress.”
Throughout the world’s cities, murals serve a variety of purposes that include political messages, cultural preservation, and beautification of the streetscape. For Chazaq, the mural provides a Jewish theme in the heart of Kew Gardens Hills at its central crossroads, Main Street and Jewel Avenue. “We hope to do a bigger mural in our community,” said Meirov. “This is our only mural for now, but hopefully there will be more to come.”
By Sergey Kadinsky