References to God in the Street & Encounters with Religious Iconography

It’s the beginning of autumn and also the season for a sequence of Jewish holidays – the new year aka Rosh HaShana, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and Sukkot, a harvest festival. These holidays are sometimes represented by symbols, such as apple and honey for the new year, or a citrus fruit and palm branches for the current harvest festival. One thing you will never see in orthodox Judaism is a physical anthropomorphised representation of God as this is considered taboo and linked to the prohibition of idolatry. In fact, I was even taught as a child in Jewish primary school to write G-D, and omit the letter O as a sign of respect, a extension of the idea of not taking his name in vain. There is also a tradition that any written Hebrew text featuring the name of God is supposed to be preserved and not discarded. I’m proof of the “give me a child until he is 7*” school of thought as I still feel a bit uncomfortable when I don’t use the hyphen!

Graffiti seen on a tree in Jerusalem, 2014

The above photograph was taken in Jerusalem back in 2014. The plea for help, carved into the tree illustrates the aforementioned prohibition.

I’ve gathered some photos I’ve taken that include the word GOD. Below, more recently at a bus shelter in London’s Pimlico I saw the following graffiti:

The word NOT has been crossed out so the resulting text states that GOD IS GREAT.

Sign in New York, 2013

Next a series of signs in the UK that have caught my eye:

God is Able Hair salon sign, Dalston

Local headline

Decorated tree with God save Britain sign, Camden

God makes no mistakes: Brighton Pride Parade, 2022

Salsa class at St.Mary Moorfields

Above, it was quite a surreal experience dancing salsa in front of version of Leonardo’s The Last Supper. The location is St. Mary Moorfield, the only Roman Catholic Church in the square mile of the City of London. But on my recent visit to Girona in Spain the ubiquity of Catholic iconography is much more apparent. I’ve also chosen examples of Catholic iconography where the image Jesus is used in commercial ways that strike me as bizarre.

Vending Machine, Girona, 2023

Newsstand in Girona, 2023

Amen: graffiti under Catholic religious painting, Palma , Mallorca, 2023

Below, layers of text and torn posters featuring Christian iconography in Jerusalem:

Next, some examples of subverting religious iconography:

Street Art with cell phone and religious iconography Palma de Mallorca, 2023

Ah, Men,Pride T shirt, London 2022

I’ll be Back Jesus T, Los Angeles, 2017

Messianic themes:

On the subject of returning – although Judaism prohibits the physical representation of God, there seems to be a plethora of imagery when is comes to the Messiah.

In the last few years I’ve amassed a collection of images that to me connote human religious iconography despite being associated with orthodox Judaism. These photographs were taken in London, Venice, New York, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Many of these images reference the Mashiach or Messiah, and feature the face of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe who apparently is considered by some to be the Messiah, even though he died in 1994:

Greeted by the Messiah, Tel Aviv, 2022

Signage in Tel Aviv, equating the Messiah with an eternal King

Hanging out in Tel Aviv

Lotto & Mashiach signage, Tel Aviv, 2022

At the Venice Ghetto, 2018

Messiah at Golders Green Station

Signage outside hat store, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 2016

Below, a few images featuring Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, a spiritual leader of the movement devoted to the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslow. Visually, I originally mistook the Rabbi for being the same one as featured above but on closer inspection he is different. The image of this long bearded rabbi, depicted with his arms up in elation, is usually accompanied by some Hebrew letters spelling a Kabbalistic play on words which sounds sounds like /spells Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman.

Rabbi Yisroel Bar Odesser, Na Nach text and Graffiti double, Tel Aviv, 2015

Smiley face sticker of orthodox Jewish male with Na Nach etc text, Golders Green, 2019

Torn posters, Jerusalem, 2014

Ber Odesser poster and Graffiti, Tel Aviv 2022

*’Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’, a quote often attributed to Aristotle.


Also published on Medium.

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