A treasure trove of historical posters

If only these posters could speak – just imagine.

Eli Zarini in his Israeli Posters Center (photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
Eli Zarini in his Israeli Posters Center
(photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
 A dimly lit staircase in a building on King George Avenue descends into a secluded courtyard away from the hubbub of central Jerusalem traffic. Here, customers enter the Israeli Posters Center, home to an elaborate trove of vintage posters depicting pivotal moments in Israeli and Jewish history.
The store contains more posters than its modest structure can comfortably accommodate, yet artist and owner Eli Zarini knows the contents of his poster kingdom intimately, maneuvering the cluttered space on a recent Wednesday morning, pulling out one poster at a time to explain its significance and context.
Born in Iran in 1943, Zarini has spent the last four decades invested in this labor of love – often working solo – cultivating a collection that he estimates contains more than 3,000 types of posters depicting photographs and illustrations, many sourced from private collections.
He sowed the seeds for this venture while studying at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in the late ’60s, a period, he recalls nostalgically, when more than half of the city’s population consisted of students.
“At first I started collecting for fun, as I had a keen interest in history and Zionism, and only later did I turn it into a business,” he explains. The collection also includes a number of his own designs, such as a 1994 tribute to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, which he sent to Israeli officials and even to King Hussein.
Posters on offer cover themes relating to pre-state Israel; independence, wars and politics; cultural festivals and advertisements; Jewish and Israeli art; religious rituals, maps and biblical themes.
If only these posters could speak – just imagine, a comedy-adventure film titled “Night at a Poster Store” could feature Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion rising from a headstand on Herzliya beach, before popping out of the 1957 photograph to wreak havoc in the streets of Jerusalem, joined in his shenanigans by Herzl and Einstein and a range of other historical figures.
Noteworthy works at the store include masterpieces by Ze’ev Raban, the prolific Israeli artist who, in addition to designing decorative elements of some of Jerusalem’s most prominent buildings, created insignia for Zionist institutions and tourism posters such as the iconic 1929 poster “Come See Erez-Israel.” Zarini also has the rights to posters by David Rubinger, the famed photographer and Jerusalem Post contributor known for his seminal snapshot of three Israeli paratroopers gazing upwards after recapturing the Western Wall during the Six Day War. He is also a fan of acclaimed artist Yossi Rosenstein, known for his detailed depictions of biblical motifs.
Zarini, or “Eliram,” his artist name, came to Israel alone in 1958 shortly after an anti-Semitic incident one Tisha Be’av in his hometown in Iran. “I was walking home from synagogue at age 14 when a man started cursing me and then hit me.” The next day Zarini began to make plans to immigrate to Israel. “I chose Jerusalem,” he details, “growing up, that was all I ever heard about.”
Zarini opened the store in 1975 in the Old City, where he lived at the time. It then moved to another King George location, before opening here 25 years ago.
The center’s customers include tourists, educators and students, who view it as a valuable resource in the form of a “living library.” Posters are also available to the international market online. Last Wednesday, local tour guide Rivkah Frankel came to buy maps. “I have been coming here for years to buy guiding material, presents and simply to browse,” she enthuses. “It really is a treasure hunt in here; you never know what you are going to find.”
Zarini notes that public requests generally reflect the zeitgeist of the period, which often centers around national solidarity. “During wartime, there is a surge in demand for soldier and military posters.” He recounts that a year after the store’s opening, during Operation Entebbe (1976), there was a demand for posters portraying soldiers.
Zarini is eager to find someone to replace him in the business and to focus on his foremost passion, which occupied him even before moving to Israel.
“I’m tired,” he reveals. “What I really want to do is paint.”