Mural Honoring Jewish Community Unveiled in Pico

A mural that honors the Jewish community was unveiled on the afternoon of June 4 in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a couple of blocks away from where the February shootings occurred.
June 5, 2023
Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

A mural that honors the Jewish community was unveiled on the afternoon of June 4 in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a couple of blocks away from where the February shootings occurred.

The mural, titled “The Common Thread,” is part of the LA vs. Hate initiative organized by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Cloe Hakakian, the artist who drew the mural, told the Journal that it was “a community-based concept.” “The community all got together and they gave their input, and I used their input and created the artwork based on all their responses in the prompts,” Hakakian, an Iranian Jew, said. The mural centers on a woman with her eyes closed with lit candles in front of her. Hakakian explained that this “is supposed to represent a mother praying on Shabbat” and the candle flames say, “L’dor v’dor,” meaning from generation to generation. The woman is also wearing a headscarf with various layers of imagery; one layer “shows generations of women getting younger and younger, all kind of having each other’s backs,” Hakakian said. “They’re each wearing textiles from different Jewish communities: the Russian community, the Persian community, all showing that there’s different Jewish communities within the community.”

Another layer shows a pomegranate, saffron flowers and “specific spices that are unique to the Jewish culture,” per Hakakian, which she said stemmed from someone in the community saying that their “mother’s spice cabinet” was part of being Jewish for them. Above the pomegranate layer in the veil is a layer depicting “a migration in the desert, which shows the healing and trauma we’ve all been through,” Hakakian said. “The goal is to get towards that bright light, that beautiful sky.” Above that layer are the words, “From generation to generation” and various Los Angeles landmarks “where Jews feel their community is prevalent,” per Hakakian. 

Robin Toma, who heads the County Commission on Human Relations, said during a press conference of the unveiling that the mural was aimed at celebrating “the values and contributions of this amazing community” and kicks off a “Summer of Solidarity.” “This is a time that we need to strengthen and showcase the unity within our county,” Toma said, contending the county’s unity is stronger than hate. He proceeded to tout the fact that the commission established a system to report all hate incidents, not just hate crimes. “We will be there to help you.”

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

ADL Los Angeles Regional Director Jeffrey I. Abrams also spoke during the press conference, saying that the “mural sends a powerful message” to the community and is a reminder “of the greater community in which our Jewish community thrives.” Federation President Noah Farkas lauded “our partnership between the ADL, the city, the county, the state and the Federation” during the press conference as being “unprecedented in our community and we are building new roads together.” Farkas also touted the Jewish mother lighting the Shabbat candles as being a “very, very powerful symbol” that “must be shown to the world.” “Art is the best way to respond to hate,” Farkas said, adding that “love is what this city about” and that “this image of a woman blessing the candles for her family becomes an image that we take to heart as we bless each other in this beautiful space”

Some elected officials spoke during the press conference as well. “We’re fortunate to have a strong and resilient Jewish community throughout Los Angeles County,” Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said, adding that “there is absolutely no room for antisemitism in all its forms.” She said that when acts of hate like the Pico shootings happen, there are two ways to respond: “retaliate or take action to prevent these kinds of hate from happening ever again.” Horvath called the mural “a striking expression of Jewish history and culture between generation” and the “most beautiful embodiment of what LA is to use art to turn pain into power.” 

Echoing the L’dor v’dor theme of the mural, City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky recalled her two and a half year old “playing with her trains” while singing the hamotzi. “As Jews this is how we’ve survived,” Yaroslavsky said, adding that “sharing these moments with your children” helps “ensure some continuity.” She then expressed worry for her three children amidst rising antisemitism, recounting how earlier in the week an individual stood up and started spewing antisemitism when the city council honored Jewish American Heritage Month. She argued that the way to fight hate is to “find ways of turning [fear] into meaning.” The mural, Yaroslavsky said, is the community’s way of “sending a powerful message that hate has no place in LA.”

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

State Senator Ben Allen (D) said during the press conference that he had just come from a Pride event in West Hollywood, calling it “a great bookend for this event.” He contended that the country has taken “a couple steps backward” regarding bigotry and hate and “some folks at the national level seem to be focusing on how to divide us.” Allen pointed out that while the Pico shootings were a couple blocks away from the mural, the mural is also close to the Museum of Tolerance, Factor’s Deli, Young Israel of Century City and The Happy Minyan are also nearby. He added that he was “taken by the beautiful face of the Jewish mother” on the mural, as “you can see that the light is almost flickering on her face.” “Candles are such an important part of spiritual life of our religion,” Allen said.

The press conference also featured Cesar Echano, a survivor of a hate crime. In 2021, Echano was assaulted in a Cerritos park by a man who shouted anti-Asian epithets at him; the man punched Echano in the face multiple times. “It was terrible. It was painful,” Echano said. “Today I’m getting better because of the help of the community, the support of the people.” He added that he “will be strong forever” and “we don’t have a place here in our community for hate.” “We are all Americans,” 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.” Toma said that a mural has since been erected in the park in response to the hate crime. “That park is united and stronger together against hate,” Toma said.

Other speakers included Human Relations Commission President Ilan Davidson––who is also a cantor at Temple Beth El in San Pedro––and Temple Beth Am Rabbi Rebecca Shatz. Following the press conference, a ribbon was cut and the bands We the Folk and Mostly Kosher performed; refreshments were also provided.

Farkas told the Journal that the mural is “the beginning of something” and the “stepping stone.” “We have secured funding from the city with our partnership with Councilwoman Yaroslavsky to help fund better security in the Jewish community,” he said. “County Supervisor Horvath has already also committed publicly to helping support us financially as well as with coordination work. Our antisemitism roundtable––which is us leading it with the ADL, LA Museum of the Holocaust, the [American Jewish Committee] and the Board of Rabbis––is looking to ever coordinate more on this issue … we are forming first in the nation type partnerships to address the scourge of anti-Jewish hate.”

Nathaniel Dorsey told the Journal that he came all the way from Victorville to the event, explaining that he is an African American who supports efforts to fight Jew-hatred because African Americans and Jews face more hate than any other ethnic groups in the country. “Other races get it, but African Americans and Jewish people get it more,” Dorsey said, citing the shootings at the Chabad of Poway and Charleston church in 2019 and 2015, respectively, as examples. “I’m a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. I love you guys,” he said.

Dorsey first learned about the Pico shootings during the unveiling of the mural and said that the fact the mural is so close to where the shootings occurred is “perfect.” “It shows that we’re standing against hate and racism,” he said. 

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