Statue of Liberty
One of the world's best-known statues. Photo by Bloomberg
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If you had asked me what a “pesel” was before I moved to Israel, I would have unhesitatingly said “idol.” You know, like in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image” -- or, in Hebrew, “pesel.”

But in the modern era, Israelis have taken the biblical term and more or less stripped it of its idol-worship connotations by making it their go-to word for “sculpture” or “statue.”

Thus a sculpture garden is a “gan pesalim,” U.S. artist Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the Ahava pesel, and the Statue of Liberty is Pesel Haherut (ha-khay-ROOT).

If you’re an amateur sculptor, you would say your hobby is pisul (pee-SOOL), which might sound like you make idols in your spare time but probably just means you like doing stuff with clay.

Much of sculpture revolves around taking something that has no shape and rendering it into a recognizable object (or in the case of abstract sculpture, just an object). What Israelis have done is take a word that had a shape -- the one that entered the Hebrew language through the Bible, the one akin to the forms of ancient pagan gods like Baal and Moloch -- and shaken off the negative associations, leaving us with sculptures of love and liberty.