On his last day before graduating Boys Town Jerusalem, Raphael Weissmann took seven hard looks at himself. Surrounded by an exhibition of the seven self-portraits he had painstakingly drawn over the past year, he lingered before each pastel depiction. “Officially, this is my art matriculation project. But in reality, it gave me an opportunity to explore the way my face expresses the different feelings in my soul. Interestingly, the stronger my emotions became, the more radically my art style changed when I drew my facial expression.” Raphael’s series of portraits portray stark looks of anger, fear, frustration, wonder, comedy, and other emotions. “This first self-portrait I drew was done in class, and it was very precise,” he explained, pointing to the early work. “But for the series, I began a new regimen. I’d leave the dormitory at night to come into the art room and work. I set up some makeshift lights and mirrors, allowing me to scrutinize my face and begin to sketch.
From a once-precise style, my drawings became more expressionistic and dramatic.” Raphael, who majored in computer studies, mastered his art techniques in Boys Town’s extracurricular art classes. He also excelled in his Arabic language classes, and became one of the few students to take matriculation exams in art and Arabic, in addition to the high-level technological subjects Boys Town is better known for offering. He also shined in his intensive Jewish studies. “Since I came to Boys Town three years ago, I’ve had new worlds open up. The entire staff—teachers, rabbis, social workers and more—did all they could to help me progress, and I really appreciate this more than I can say.” Raphael, 19, experienced a fair amount of hardships in his life. His parents, who immigrated to Israel from Scandinavia and from South Africa, divorced when Raphael was a child.
At Boys Town, special efforts were made to help him gain the confidence to enhance his above-average intelligence and his sensitive nature. Raphael is quick—and proud—to point out that his spark of artistic genius runs in the family. “My grandfather Herman Wald was a renowned South African sculptor,” he said. “He died long before I was born, but I feel that I’ve been given a special challenge to continue his heritage.” Today, on the brink of his graduation, Raphael is already dreaming of a career in architecture. “When I first started studying with Yitzchak Giladi, who heads Boys Town’s art studies, I didn’t really grasp what directions my art could take. Previous teachers had been so strict with me, and I just did what they said. But Yitzchak told me, ‘Find your own style, and let that be your guide to lead you.’ That advice changed everything, and gave me the confidence to grow. That’s what I’ll take with me from Boys Town, and that’s what I’ll bring to my work in architecture and to my entire life.”