Turning blank spaces into wonder walls

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There’s been an outbreak of mural-mania on the Peninsula.

Jay Wolf Schlossberg- Cohen introduces the Grow Justice mural at an Oct. 20 ceremony at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.

In recent months, Jewish institutions in Foster City, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale have created outdoor murals — two at Jewish day schools and one at a Jewish Community Center.

All three are easy on the eyes.

The biggest is the Grow Justice mural at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City. Measuring 12 feet tall by a whopping 127 feet long, the mural adorns an outdoor wall along the JCC’s new Justice Garden, making it one of the most visible spots on the campus.

“We really wanted to add a new vitality and to repurpose this space in an active way,” said PJCC cultural arts director Kimberly Gordon. “For ten years the wall had nothing.”

From left, Shana Penn and Tad Taube of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen and PJCC board president Michael Berman

Under the direction of  artist-in-residence Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen and ceramicist E. Blaise DePaolo, the project got underway last July. Hundreds of amateur muralists of all ages completed it over a two-week period in October.

On Oct. 20, the JCC threw a coming out party for the mural. More than 150 people attended, marveling at the colorful meditation on the Jewish value of tzedek, or justice.

“We had seven Jewish text-based design workshops in July,” Gordon said. “You can’t just draw ‘justice,’ so we divided it up into four sections.”

The section topics are environmental stewardship, human rights, fighting poverty and food justice. “We realize we have a real learning opportunity now,” Gordon added. “So many d’var Torah [Bible lessons] are in this work of art.”

A portion of the mural at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale

At South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale, ,art teacher Nancy Meyer and her students spent much of last year designing and creating a mosaic mural for a covered outdoor walkway on campus. Simcha Moyal curated.

The mural, which is 8 feet tall and 30 feet wide, depicts the Seven Species of Israel, those being wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates and dates. The Hebrew words shalom, kavod and achryut (which mean peace, respect and responsibility) were painted on top.

It may feature only seven species but it took an estimated 40,000 ceramic hand-cut tiles to bring the mural to life. Meyer recruited K-8 students, along with parents and staff, to create it.

“I found some beautiful tiles,” she said. “The kids had gloves and goggles, and they smashed up the tile with hammers.”

Yet to be unveiled is a mosaic project that is underway at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. Once it is completed, everyone will be able to see the colorful 22-by-5-foot mural on the Fabian Way wall outside the school.

It features the name of the school along with Jewish symbols such as a shofar and a ram (the ram being Kehillah’s mascot).

Jennifer Idleman teaches art at the school and helped spearhead the project. She said it began as an art tefillah project, tefillah meaning “prayer” in Hebrew.

Kehillah High senior Ariel Davis at work on the mural

“It was started by a student group,” she said. “One student said we should do a mural as a permanent installation to the school. We got a group of kids together, the mural club, who came up with ideas for imagery.”

That was more than a year ago. Work on the mural has been slow but steady, and in November, the students and faculty held a special event to celebrate all the work that had been done up to that point, namely, gluing down all of the glass and ceramic pieces to create 36 mosaic panels. Now all that needs to be done is some grouting work and putting the panels together.

“By the time we get it up on the wall it will be two years since we started,” Idleman noted. “There were 20 or so students involved. The kids want the school to be a more visible part of the community.”

As an artist, Idleman has made mosaics in the past, so she helped her students through the creative process. But not too much.

“I have done very little of the actual piecemeal work,” she said. “My job has been to show them how to cut the pieces, how it will look best, then turn them loose. The kids are super invested in it.”

The Grow Justice mural at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City is 12 feet high and 127 feet long.



An “H” in the yet-to-be-assembled Kehillah mural


Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.