Larger-than-life Bushwick mural shows Israeli and Palestinian children embracing

(New York Jewish Week) — Amid Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Israeli and Palestinian boys act as symbols of a peaceful future in a new, larger-than-life mural painted this week on the side of a loft building in Bushwick.

The Israeli boy, wearing a kippah and ritual fringes, and the Palestinian boy, who wears a keffiyeh — the black-and-white headscarf often signifying Palestinian nationalism — wrap their arms around each other as they walk off into the sunset underneath the words: “Love’s resilience can rebuild bridges that the war has burned.”

The mural was intended to channel a sense of hope, as well as to shift the prevailing narratives in Bushwick, according to Michelle Mayerson, who helped organize and commission the mural.

“With this particular piece, actually, I wanted to do something about the war,” Mayerson told the New York Jewish Week. “In Bushwick, there is a Free Palestine mural of Muslim woman holding a child and it’s beautiful, tugs at the soul. But it’s one-sided, and I just felt we should have some representation — and even this representation is really not pro-Israel at all. It’s just the fact that there’s a Jewish kid in Bushwick.”

Through her company Brooklyn Street Art, Mayerson serves as a liaison between street and graffiti artists and the real estate companies or landlords who own Brooklyn’s buildings. In some of her work, the building owners approach her about finding an artist to beautify the sides of their property. Other times, the artists approach her with an idea, and she gets a building on board for them to make it into a reality.

In the case of this mural, it was neither. In the wake of the Oct. 7 attack, Mayerson had already been thinking about what a mural made in response might look like, but found it difficult to convince both artists and building owners of her vision.

“I was trying so hard to be sensitive to everyone. I only wanted to promote love and peace,” Mayerson said. “In Bushwick and in street art in general, people love to push the limits. But with this particular issue, when the idea was hatched, most artists didn’t even want to paint anything even remotely near it,” she added.

But when her friend, a Chilean street artist and muralist who goes by the name De Grupo, reached out to offer condolences and support, everything began falling into place. “I also wanted to get a mural together about the war,” De Grupo recalled.

Now all Mayerson had to do was find the right building. Most of her work is in Bushwick, the epicenter of contemporary street art and murals in New York City.

“I called every contact I had. No one wanted to give me a wall to put anything on there that was controversial,” said Mayerson, who is Jewish. She said Jewish realtors and landlords she spoke to were especially worried about vandalism and about upsetting their tenants.

Eventually, Mayerson managed to secure 40 feet of wall on the side of 49 Wyckoff Avenue, a popular canvas for street artists that often commissions art as well as advertising. Mayerson then went on to fundraise for supplies, lifts and compensation for the artists.

“The way this came together felt like the hand of God,” she said.

Mayerson, De Grupo and a third artist named Manuel Alejandro started designing what the little boys would wear. “Little boys would be wearing jerseys and in the Middle East, what’s the biggest sport? Soccer,” Mayerson said. “So we were thinking, ‘Let’s do a little cheeky little rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi.”

The group decided that the Palestinian boy would wear the blue and maroon jersey of the Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo and the Israeli boy would wear the light blue jersey of longtime Argentina star Lionel Messi, both because they are two of the most recognizable players on Earth and also because each player is popular in those respective regions, as Ronaldo currently plays for Saudi Arabia and Messi has visited Israel.

It wasn’t until the drawing was completed that Mayerson and the artists noticed the combination of the players’ jersey numbers spelled out 10/7, the day of the Hamas attack that left about 1,200 Israelis dead and the beginning of the war.

“That was just a bonus. It didn’t dawn on anybody until we finished the draft,” she said. “We didn’t plan it. It wasn’t something that we had discussed. It was just there. It was a sign of God.”

They also had one of the boys holding a beaten-up teddy bear as a sign of “what they have gone through,” Mayerson said, but they are “still pulling their little toy together and walking towards the sunset.”

“I’m very happy with the idea and the way everybody came together,” De Grupo said.

The image is reminiscent of a famous photograph taken shortly after the 1993 Oslo Accords appearing to show a Palestinian boy and an Israeli boy with their arms around each other’s shoulders that became a symbol of the era’s hope for peace. The photograph has endured and even circulated since Oct. 7 as a vision of an alternate present, one in which there can be peace — even though it was revealed a decade ago to have been staged: Both boys were Jewish.

Whether the new picture lasts as long remains to be seen. Once the group secured a spot to work and funding, they painted the mural over just four days on the weekend of New Year’s Eve. It will be up, Mayerson said, until the building secures its next advertising partnership.

Mayerson said that the mural received both positive and negative feedback when she posted it on her social media page — and she decided to delete the negative comments.

“I didn’t want it to take away from the message and from people looking at it and just seeing something that really is a beautiful picture,” she explained. “What could be bad about two boys from two different cultures and religions just playing together?”

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