Solomon Souza stands on the roof of Shalhevet High School, looking at his mural in progress, gesturing at the hills that make up the foreground and background and the fish swimming in circles at the center. He then points to the corner of the mural, the only area left unfilled.
“I’m thinking about doing doves there, because you know, fish and birds, they were made on the same day,” he said. He climbs onto the elevated platform and puts on his mask, getting to work.
Souza and his partner, Berel Hahn, came to Shalhevet to paint a mural commemorating Arthur “Fishy” Kranzler, a local community leader, who died in 2015. The project was unveiled on June 14 as part of Shalhevet’s annual Celebration Under the Stars, this year’s event honoring Jason and Rebecca Feld for their years of work at the school. Jason Feld, dean of students at Shalhevet, announced earlier this year he had accepted a job in Washington state.
The spray-painted mural is a rendering of Jerusalem with bright clouds overhead and a few buildings and trees, with a swirling mandala of Jewish stars and swimming fish on its edges.
Souza and Hahn originally hadn’t planned to come to Los Angeles. They were in Chicago, working on a mural for NCSY, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. In a video about the project, Souza spoke of going elsewhere in the country to do more work. But they hadn’t decided where.
Shalhevet was looking to fill in an unpainted segment on the roof of the school, and Jason Feld mentioned his appreciation for Souza’s murals in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market. That led Sarah Emerson, executive director at Shalehvet, to reach out.
“We were looking for the right artist and the right image and we didn’t know what it was until we hit it,” Emerson said. “We looked at [his] work, and it was calling [his] name.” But, they were unsure if they could get Souza to come. “They happened to be in Chicago, and we talked about it, and it ended up working out.”
For a mural honoring his father, Fishy’s son Eric Kranzler brought Souza and Hahn an album to provide ideas. Souza studied it and listened to stories about Kranzler’s time in Israel and Los Angeles, which provided a focus.
“Definitely wanted to do something Jewish, something Israeli, something Zionistically inclined,” Souza said. “The hills of Jerusalem, the hills of L.A., the connection between them. That’s what I wanted to do.”
After sharing a sketch with the school, he went to work.
The mural’s location, on the roof of Shalhevet, has similarities in purpose to Souza’s work at Mahane Yehuda. There, he created murals to adorn the shutters of closed shops, using vibrant colors and Jewish influences to add life to the street on Shabbat. At Shalhevet, the roof similarly is a hub of socialization.
“Any day school is in session, you’ll find students up here,” Emerson said. “There are classrooms up here, the teachers’ lounge is up here, the beit midrash, as well. It’s a hub for everyone.”
At the ceremony, Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, addressed the audience of more than 275 as the mural was unveiled. In his remarks, provided to the Journal, he said, “Simply put, Fishy was larger than life … a life guided by his passion for the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland.”
Segal shared more of Kranzler’s story, of how “he moved to Israel in 1949 to literally build and defend the land.” He added, “I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to Fishy, reminding our students every day of his vibrancy, his passion for Israel, and his enduring legacy.”
The mural was not the only piece by Souza unveiled that night. He also created a portrait as a special gift to honor the Felds for their years of service. Jason was the dean of students for 10 years and Rebecca is a former teacher. “It’s huge and crazy,” Emerson said. “It’s really a shuk piece.”
What’s next for Souza and Hahn? They want to continue traveling the country and making public art like the murals in Chicago and at Shalhevet. Back in Jerusalem, they are working on starting a gallery for artists like themselves. “We’re looking to support artists,” Hahn said, “aspiring or otherwise.”