After Antisemitic Shooting, LA Neighborhood Gets a Hopeful Mural

LOS ANGELES — A new mural depicting a woman lighting candles for Shabbat Earlier was unveiled in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles earlier this month. Within the folds of her headscarf emerge symbols of LA’s diverse Jewish communities and recognizable emblems of the city — a pomegranate and saffron, Russian and Persian textile patterns, a desert scene of the biblical Exodus resembling the beaches of Malibu — alongside intergenerational female silhouettes. Standing out from the blue background, the red candle flames are composed of Hebrew letters forming the words l’dor v’dor, meaning “from generation to generation.”

Painted by Iranian-American Jewish artist Cloe Hakakian, “The Common Thread” at 9320 West Pico Boulevard is the first of five planned anti-hate murals organized by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations (CHR) as part of its LA vs. Hate summer initiative. (Hakakian also created a mural last year in support of the protests for women’s rights in Iran.) The Pico-Robertson neighborhood, known as a hub of Jewish culture in LA, was the site of the shooting of two Jewish people as they were leaving synagogue earlier this year, an incident that was investigated as a hate crime. (The shootings were a block apart, about a mile southwest of the new mural.)

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Each mural is sited in one of LA County’s five districts and will honor a different group, including the Black community in South LA’s District 2, the Native community in District 5 to the North, and the Latinx community in the San Gabriel Valley to the east. The next mural will focus on the LGBTQ+ population of Long Beach and will be unveiled on August 5. The themes were chosen based on findings from LA County’s 2021 Hate Crime Report.

The work is the first of five planned anti-hate murals.

Although hate crimes have been increasing nationally over the past several years, they are sadly not a new phenomenon. The CHR was founded nearly 80 years ago in the wake of the June 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, in which mobs of American servicemen attacked zoot suit-wearing Mexican Americans on the streets of LA.

The murals are the anchor of the Summer of Solidarity campaign, through which the CHR partners with community-based organizations including the Brotherhood Crusade, LA Commons, and the LGBTQ Long Beach Center. The partners for the first mural are the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Anti-Defamation League. CHR enlisted TaskForce, an organization that works on public campaigns, to organize the mural initiative.

This community engagement extends to the creation of each mural as well, which involves a series of focus groups with local residents. At the first session, they are prompted to answer questions about their identity on index cards, which the artists use to inform their process. After they create an initial design, it is again shared with the focus group for another round of feedback.

“It strengthened the feeling of being from this community. There’s a special bond whether or not you know everyone … I felt like we were doing it together,” Hakakian told Hyperallergic, likening herself to “the brush on the wall,” animated by the collective responses she received.

Hakakian sees her mural as providing something different depending on who is viewing it and how familiar they are with the imagery it depicts. “It will educate people who don’t know, and bring comfort to those who do,” she said.


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