A mural of Jerusalem that includes a mosaic of Magen Davids ascending toward the sky, with their points woven together, was painted by Arab youths at an arts centre in east Jerusalem recently.
Callum Schuster stands in front of his mural.
The arts project, at the Paley Center for the Arts, an Arab community centre, was led and co-designed by Callum Schuster, a 20-year-old Ontario College of Art and Design student.
Schuster’s mission, given to him by Ian Leventhal, a Toronto artist and executive director of the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada in Toronto, was to design a mural that focused on Jerusalem and its importance to the many people who inhabit the culturally rich city.
The eight-metre-wide mural was painted during after-school hours over a five-day period by 15 local, mostly Muslim Arab youths from the ages of 10 to 20.
“I was naive to expect that the students would immediately accept me and my idea of the painting,” Schuster, still buzzing from the trip, said.
“As soon as I took my pencil off the canvas from drawing a Star of David, several students erased it, and I realized that I was obviously not seeing something they were seeing.”
Issam Sabbah, the director of the centre, told the students, in Arabic, what Schuster’s intentions and wishes for the mural were.
“You have to move on from these feelings of hate and look at things in a new light,” Sabbah told them. “If we want a new future, we need to find a new way of looking at things.”
Then Sabbah told Schuster to continue doing what he had planned to do with the mural, and not to let the students stop him. Sabbah drew a Jewish star again, and those who were still opposed to having the Jewish symbol included moved on to drawing another scene.
Schuster integrated Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites in Jerusalem into the mural. One girl suggested painting candles to symbolize the people who have perished on both sides of the Mideast conflict. These, too, were incorporated in the mural.
The execution of the mural and experiences gained during the process were completely different than what Schuster anticipated.
“The final product was truly secondary. What really matters was that it was a step forward and that the students were able to drop the negative feelings for the Star of David,” he said.
“The kids showed up every day with a smile on their faces, ready to paint, hoping for a new and peaceful Jerusalem. They hold the key to the future. As long as there is hope, there is possibility for change.”
Spending much of his time in east Jerusalem, at the Paley Center and with Sabbah’s family at his home in Siluan overlooking the City of David excavations, gave Schuster added insight into the complexities of Jerusalem. Schuster said he listened intently when Sabbah talked about his Christian, Jewish and Muslim neighbours, and the success of their co-habitation. Schuster said he felt privileged to see this different side of Jerusalem, and of Israel.
Schuster hopes to go back to Israel and contribute his talents to more coexistence projects. He has his sights on volunteering at the Ramat Moriah Community School, an Arabic and Hebrew bilingual school, as well as bringing to Toronto a travelling art show called Children of Jerusalem: Painting Pain, Dreaming Peace, created by the Muslim, Christian and Jewish students from the school.
Schuster said he is determined to convey what he’s learned in Israel to his friends and family in Toronto.