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A Tale of Art and Faith

Tamar Levine

Master artist Shimon Levi is a familiar figure in his Bucharim neighborhood, where he embosses the images of our gedolim in shades of gold and silver in his modest studio. But though his artwork is well known, few know the details of his life — a fascinating story that began in a town in Spain and took him on a voyage on the deep blue sea, before planting him firmly in the city he loves best of all, Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Set deep within a maze of quaint stone streets is the Jerusalem residence of master artist Shimon Levi. I know, because I spent considerable time traversing the unfamiliar winding alleyways of the Bucharim neighborhood in search of 39 Reichman Street, the artist’s elusive address. After finally locating the street and the number, I discovered to my chagrin that the building clearly belonged to a shul! Several inquiries later, the mystery was solved. Levi’s home is a tiny apartment attached to the rear of the shul building.

While some might find these quarters to be intolerably cramped, Levi sees things differently, explaining, “The zchus of rising in the morning to the poignant song of sweet children singing “Modeh Ani” inspires me to express my own gratitude to Hashem for leading me to discover and dwell in this special place.”

Yet he is not entirely immune to the aesthetics of his surroundings. When Levi purchased his current residence, it bore no resemblance to the beautiful studio of today. “It was an utter churvah!” he chuckles, leading me to a hidden corner in the kitchen. Lifting a curtain to reveal an unpainted wall that is still filthy, stained, and cracked, he says, “See this? The whole house looked like that! I spent three months scrubbing, painting, and renovating.”

But we have not come to talk about renovations. After Levi introduces me to his son, the conversation turns naturally to art — specifically to the portrait in silver that is mounted on an easel standing in the center of the room. The portrait, an exact image of the Steipler that is embossed against the backdrop of a Jerusalem stone wall, shines with a startling reality. With its shades of silver and black, it is a work of art unlike anything I have ever seen.

“I just finished that one,” Levi explains, his voice overflowing with both joy and a modesty that is reminiscent of the Jews of times long gone. But even though his demeanor, like his lifestyle, is one of unaffected simplicity, Levi is far from simple. The eyes that shine from behind his thick glasses reveal a tremendous wisdom, which has come from a lifetime of profound experiences.

 

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