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Celebrating the joy of Chanukah by making public art

Nomi Kaltmann
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Moully Seaport menorah

Published: 7 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

NOMI KALTMANN meets YITZCHOK MOULLY, an artist whose vibrant public menorahs and murals have struck a chord in the US, and now in England.

Australian-American artist Yitzchak Moully loves Chanukah. “The only [unalterable law], the only thing that you can’t break is eight flames in a row. Everything else is up for grabs,” he says.

Each year, the 44-year-old artist initiates the creative process of making huge public art menorahs from his home in Brooklyn, New York, in the months leading up to the festival, engaging in brainstorming sessions.

“The menorahs I make are sculptural pieces of art that are appealing to a wide audience. You can make it on Chanukah and make a [blessing] on it, but the designs push the envelope. I get as creative as I possibly can,” he tells The Jewish Independent Media.

With his eye for unusual beauty and symmetry, his unique menorahs are a hit. “It’s exciting to throw out everything you know about a menorah and just have that one rule and work at it from there. I have many designs,” he said, referring to the menorahs he has been commissioned to make, both in the US and overseas.

Yitzchak Moully with one of his street murals
Yitzchak Moully with one of his street murals

Born in Darwin, Moully spent a few years living in New York as a child, before finishing his schooling at Yeshivah College in Melbourne. He worked for many years as a Chabad rabbi on campus in America, before committing himself full-time to his art. He calls himself the Pop Hasid.

His creations synthesise his orthodox upbringing. his former role as a former campus rabbi and his artistic interests.

“I’m not following anyone’s script. I’m doing my own thing. I love that there are no footprints in the sand or snow to follow,” he says. “The wildness and freedom of Australia definitely influences my work.

Giant mural in Chicago
Giant mural in Chicago

“I have a menorah that is somewhere between a sundial and clock. The shamash is the centrepiece. Each arm rotates around that, the further out the arm goes the slower the rotation. When Chanukah comes around, they all line up in a row. Part of my motivation is to make it look nothing like a menorah,” he said.

The theme of lighting up the darkness, which remains large in the themes of Chanukah, inspire Moully’s work. “The way we connect and when people come together, the whole is greater sums of the parts.

“[One year] I made a 3D menorah that was touch sensitive. You complete a circuit when you touch it and turn on a light. And from there it was a wonderful response,” he said. His menorah designs have encompassed many unique ideas including an X-shaped design, a towering 4.5 metre menorah in lower Manhattan, and enormous public murals.

Rendering of giant menorah to be built in London
Rendering of giant menorah to be built in London

This year he is creating an enormous public art Menorah for a community in London.

“In England they are building under my direction a 20-foot menorah that will be ready for Chanukah,” he says.

Moully’s innovative and interactive works continue to be a hit with many people. “It’s a matter of Yiddishkeit and Torah, and the incredible power of our actions. It’s what you say. Not how you say it. I love creating interactive murals. It makes participants co-collaborators.”

Moully has not been to his hometown of Melbourne in 16 years and would love to find an excuse to come back, ideally to show his work at the Jewish Museum in Melbourne.

Photo: The Seaport menorah in Manhattan.

About the author

Nomi Kaltmann

Nomi Kaltmann is a Melbourne lawyer who writes regularly on Jewish life and culture. Nomi is also the founder and inaugural president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Australia (JOFA).

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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