Mordechai Tzion Tzidkiyahu founded Tzidkiyahu Deli in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market (“the shuk”) in 1967. When he passed away earlier this year, his son – who continued and expanded the family business — asked street artist Solomon Souza to immortalize his father visually.
“That brought me back to the shuk,” says Souza, the 30-year-old British émigré who spent several years painting about 250 portraits of historical figures on the shutters of the market stalls. (Click here to read our article from 2015 about the project.)
Souza lives nearby, but over the past five years he has turned his artistic attentions to other parts of the capital city, as well as Tel Aviv, Safed (Tzfat) and much farther afield, including London and Goa.
Souza tells ISRAEL21c that a few weeks after he finished the Tzidkiyahu portrait on Agrippas Street just outside the market, he was contacted by the family of another recently deceased Machane Yehuda merchant, Ezra “Azura” Shrefler. Shrefler founded the famed Azura workers’ restaurant in 1958.
“I realized these icons of the shuk are leaving us,” says Souza, and he wanted to keep their images alive for the throngs of local shoppers and tourists frequenting the market today.
“The project became obvious,” Souza says. “Everything clicked.”
Friedman commissioned Souza to paint the founding faces of the shuk and to execute a huge mural on the wall of the former Etz Chaim Yeshiva next to the market on Jaffa Road.
Souza graciously allowed ISRAEL21c to share his photographs of some of the portraits, but we can reveal the identities of only a handful to avoid the spoiler effect. He explains that a book and a special tour are planned in the future to fully flesh out the stories of these painted personalities of Machane Yehuda.
“I’ve done over 40 portraits so far and there are many more stories that need telling. I’d like to paint many more characters,” Souza tells ISRAEL21c. “Ideally, we’d like to tell 100 stories for 100 years.”
Each painting takes him only a couple of hours to finish. The truly time-consuming part of the task is finding an opportunity to sit with descendants of his subjects to hear his subjects’ stories and dig up photos of them from which he can work.
Then he has to find and prepare the “canvas,” be it a wall, door or shutter in the market, which encompasses more than 600 businesses, the majority of them second- or third-generation.
“We have to engage the families because these characters are beloved by their children,” says Souza.
“When they come to the market, they see their abba [father] or saba [grandfather] on their shutters every morning. It’s very personal. I see it in their eyes as they connect and it gives me nachas,” he says, using the Yiddish word for pleasurable pride.
“This has been an amazing project.”
Here are some additional portraits Souza has painted in the shuk. We’ll have to wait patiently for the book or tour to find out who they are.
Meanwhile, Souza is working on several street art projects related to the war, hoping to bring some hope and beauty to the public in this difficult time.