NEW YORK — Though Greenwich Village was once home to artists and writers, these days, it is largely populated by bankers and lawyers and wealthy New York University students. Recently sparks of creativity were in the air again when ordinary passersby were invited to make drawings to brighten up Israeli bomb shelters.

The drawings were made as part of an art vigil organized by the art activist group, Artists 4 Israel. The July 24 vigil aimed to bring together art and prayer, a priest and a rabbi were on hand to lead a prayer for peace following the art making.

An offshoot, a concurrent pro-Israel demonstration was planned under the iconic arch in Washington Square Park, the two events formed a “V” on the northwest corner of the park. People wearing Israel-supportive t-shirts such as with the IDF logo and Star of David, chanted and sang, and held up signs and Israeli flags in support of the Jewish State.

Artists 4 Israel chose to host a vigil “because we wish to allow all people to express their faith and their support for Israel in the ways that are most comfortable to them. Art, to many, is an outward manifestation of their inner feelings, much like prayer. And this is a chance to unite those two great impulses,” said Craig Dershowitz, the group’s executive director.

Participants were invited to draw on canvases with oil crayons propped up on wooden easels along Washington Square North. People sketched flowers and trees, Jewish stars, and messages for peace.

‘If you can say a prayer out loud why not draw it too?’

“We accept all faiths and want them to pray in their own way,” remarked Dershowitz. “Our way is with a paintbrush, a spray paint can, a marker or even a crayon. If you can say a prayer out loud why not draw it too?”

The completed canvases were flown to Israel with Dershowitz and a team of graffiti artists the following day where they are being distributed to children in hospitals and in youth villages, to soldiers, and to Israeli citizens “to let them know that there is an entire community behind them,” said Dershowitz.

While some people are canceling their trips to Israel out of concern for their safety, Artists 4 Israel chose not to. “The recent escalation has done nothing but strengthen our resolve. Our artists are as fearless as the Israeli people living through this incredibly difficult time,” asserted Dershowitz.

While in Israel, Dershowitz and the graffiti artists in his group are planning to paint bomb shelters in Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Tel Aviv. They have previously gone on five bomb shelter graffiti trips to Israel. The team will also deliver their Healing Arts Kit to children, a collection of art supplies and activities which Artists 4 Israel developed with the help of art therapists, art teachers, emergency first responders and parents.

At the Greenwich Village event, Artists 4 Israel also set up its portable Bomb Shelter Museum, which arrived in Manhattan on a flatbed truck after a stop near the US Capitol in Washington DC.

Visitors could climb a small staircase into the 8x10x10-foot space (around the size of modest sukkah) which was littered with crumpled newspapers and paper plates. Its walls are made out of wooden planks painted charcoal grey, and it was dark inside, save for a video playing of kids in Sderot practicing a heartbreaking song about running to a bomb shelter and showing them having to move quickly to a shelter in the fifteen seconds a siren affords them.

The organizers of 'Art Vigil' set up easels along a busy walkway in New York's Village. (courtesy)

The organizers of ‘Art Vigil’ set up easels along a busy walkway in New York’s Village. (courtesy)

The religious leaders invited to the vigil were Rabbi Scott Matous and Pastor Dan Quagliata. Rabbi Matous is the associate rabbi of the New Synagogue and a psychiatric social worker in pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. He recited Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s prayer for peace. Pasto Quagliata, the lead pastor of The Bridge Church in Malverne, New York, prayed for comfort for all who are suffering, for peace, and for God to “help us as we use the arts to create new realities and new perspectives.”

As the evening wore on, it stayed warm and light out until well past eight. The demonstration under the arch grew in number; echoes of it could be heard throughout the park. Curious bystanders watched, a few were overheard talking about the situation in the Middle East. Elsewhere in the square, other activities went on as usual; a tour of the Village made a stop, kids played, lovers nestled on benches, people read and picnicked on the grass.