To honor a child murdered in the Holocaust, come and paint a ceramic butterfly at the River Edge Library on April 24.
To understand the significance of that art project, you first will watch a documentary, “NOT the Last Butterfly,” about the Butterfly Project, a nonprofit organization that grew out of a 2006 initiative at the San Diego Jewish Academy. Its goal is to have 1.5 million ceramic butterflies painted and displayed, in memory of the 1.5 million children killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Butterflies have come to symbolize those young victims because of the poem “The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedman, one of 15,000 Jewish children and teens interned in the concentration camp-ghetto Terezin/Theresienstadt. (Paul later died in Auschwitz.) The poem is included in several compilations of drawings and writings by Theresienstadt children between 1942 and 1944, including the 1959 book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” titled after a line from Pavel Friedman’s poem.
The 2016 documentary was co-produced by Joe Fab and former Paramus resident Cheryl Rattner Price to spread the word about the Butterfly Project. In the film, Theresienstadt survivor Ela Weissberger — one of only 10 percent of the children interned there who lived to tell the tragic story — describes how an artist and teacher in the camp-ghetto helped the imprisoned children express the trauma of their experiences through the arts.
The Butterfly Project sells kits, each containing 36 small ceramic butterflies for painting or glazing, colored glazes (or acrylic paints for people who do not have access to a kiln), paintbrushes, and 36 photo cards describing the lives of individual children who died in the Holocaust.
The River Edge library’s adult services librarian, Jennifer Kelemen, explained that this will be the sixth free Holocaust remembrance program she has organized at the library in partnership with the River Dell Chapter of Hadassah, the River Edge Cultural Center, and Friends of the River Edge Library. The sponsors cover all costs, including licensing the documentaries and logos, and in this case also the butterfly kits.
“These programs are geared to adults since New Jersey’s schools have mandated Holocaust education, but the program this year is also appropriate for children because it’s a hands-on experience,” Ms. Kelemen said.
The idea of screening “NOT the Last Butterfly” along with a butterfly-painting activity originated with Wendy Salkin, co-president of River Dell Hadassah.
“I had seen the film at the JCC in Manhattan, and it really touches your heart and brings out insightful questions and comments,” Ms. Salkin said. “People in all different countries, of all different religions, have painted butterflies. It really brings communities together in memory of those who were lost and gives them an understanding in a concrete way.”
The film most recently was screened in our area at the April 4 JCC Rockland Jewish Film Festival.
Ms. Kelemen expects the program to be inspirational to everyone who participates in it.
“The Holocaust is a tough subject, and I was looking for something that could give some hope at the same time,” she said. “You’ll sit and take time to meditate on what you just saw in the film, and be inspired during the painting portion to focus on the children and honor their memory.”
She points out that a public library is “neutral ground, not like a temple or Jewish community centers.” This can help people from all backgrounds — and not only from River Edge — feel more comfortable participating.
Whereas butterflies produced from the kits ordinarily are affixed permanently to a wall or other display area, those made at the library will be on exhibit for a month because the library lacks permanent space for them.
“Even a temporary display raises understanding and awareness,” said Ms. Kelemen, who is looking into an installation space for the butterflies somewhere else.
Holocaust documentaries screened at the River Edge Library as part of this series, begun in 2012, include “Only a Number,” produced by Steven Besserman; “Paper Clips,” coproduced by Joe Fab; “We Are Still Here” by Evan Kleinman of Rockland County; “Two Who Dared,” co-produced by Ken Burns, and “Prisoner of Her Past” by Howard Reich.
In past years, the films have been accompanied by a personal appearance by the producer or an introduction by Dr. Michael Riff, the director of the Gross Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Ramapo College. “I contacted Cheryl Ratner Price, and she is excited we are doing this, though unfortunately she can’t join us,” Ms. Kelemen said.
She finds documentaries to be effective in engaging the community. “Our job at the library is to inform and educate,” she said.
What: The Butterfly Project, a Holocaust remembrance program co-sponsored by River Dell Hadassah, Friends of the River Edge Library, and the River Edge Cultural Center
Where: River Edge Public Library, 685 Elm Avenue
When: Monday, April 24, 7-8:30 p.m.
For more information: Call (201) 261-1663, ext. 4; go to www.notthelastbutterfly.com; or email thebutterflyprojectnow.org
Admission: Free and open to the public, including the screening and butterfly painting