Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Lions and Penguins and Goats, Oh My

For six months this year, the streets of Jerusalem were graced by a colorful cast of plaster and stone lions in a variety of artistic depictions. The project, commissioned by the municipality, had some 80 lions - the symbol of Jerusalem - created and placed at strategic intersections around the city.

There were lions with wings, a panoply of psychedelic lions, a lion with a harp, several in stylized cages, and one decked out in the colors and uniform of the Betar Jerusalem soccer team.

Everyone’s favorite, it seemed, was a lion called "Aryeh Aryeh," which had the body of a lion (“aryeh” in Hebrew) and the face of Aryeh Deri, the now-former Shas politician.

The lions were eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder, earning money for the artists and for various child welfare organizations assembled by the city. The prices ranged from just over the starting price of $999 to a high of $22,000 for a chiseled white Jerusalem stone lion known as “Only a Toy.” Sadly, Aryeh Aryeh received just $7,500.

What do you do with a life-size plaster or Jerusalem stone lion once you’ve bought it, anyway? Put it in your living room? In your office? Will it even fit through the door? Do you need an export license from the Antiquities Authority to take it out of the country? And why do it in the first place? Other than the opportunity to donate to a good cause.

Still, the lions were a brilliant gesture, bringing light to a forlorn time in our city’s recent history. Children adored them; they climbed all over them and no one made a fuss. At one point, two lions were lent out to stand guard over the chuppa at a wedding. No lion, to the best of my knowledge, was ever blown up in a suicide bombing.

Tel Aviv actually started the trend in Israel. A couple years back they placed life-size penguins all over town. I really don’t know what penguins have to do with Tel Aviv or Israel. Penguins of peace maybe? More recently, there have reportedly been dolphins sighted.

Street art featuring statue animals is not unique to Israel. Zurich, Chicago and New York have all had cows, moose have gone grazing in Toronto, and bears once appeared in Berlin.

When we used to live in Berkeley, CA., before making aliyah in 1994, our neighborhood animal mascot was no mere statue: we had a family of real live wild peacocks living on our street. Not so unusual on a farm or in a rural area, but in the middle of a city, living in the trees high above, they attracted quite a bit of attention.

As well as controversy, as some of our less “open-minded” neighbors decried the noise and the mess while others enjoyed the notoriety, especially after the baby pea-hens were born. The local TV news even did a story once.

Jody and I were solidly in the pro-Peacock party until the birds took up residence in the trees immediately outside our bedroom window. Their yelping started at 4:00 AM every morning. Eventually the animal protection society captured them and carted them off to a more appropriate environment, with no love lost from this sleep-deprived grump.

The City of Jerusalem says it will be organizing another public art display like the lions. They haven’t decided what animal, but I already have a suggestion: Goats.

In 1987, the city had a sculpture of two yellow goats built high above Emek Refaim Street in our neighborhood. No one has ever been able to explain what exactly these goats were supposed to symbolize, but they have weathered all weather and hover there, silently watching the traffic, unique and alone, to this day.

They deserve some company. I’m thinking of starting a petition to place psychadelic goats made of Jerusalem stone all around town. Want to get involved? Just click the Comments button below.

To see pictures of all 80 lions, click here.
To go to the official Jerusalem Municipality Lion's site, click here.

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