By Julie Rizzo, LJCC Senior Director of Member Engagement
On December 2, 2021, for the first time in 21 months, the Levine Jewish Community Center (LJCC) Butterfly Project hosted an in-person workshop for 120 masked seventh-grade students from Weddington Middle School. We were thrilled to once again be able to welcome a group of local students for a two-and-a-half-hour field trip, during which we use the lessons of the Holocaust to teach students how to identify and combat prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination and to promote activism.
Our workshops include listening to a local Holocaust survivor speak followed by Q&A; an educational activity using the ADL’s “Pyramid of Hate” to demonstrate what can happen when individuals and governments fail to take a stand against injustice; a discussion to encourage thought about individuals’ names and identities; and a tour of the Margaret & Lou Schwartz Butterfly Garden Holocaust Memorial. Before leaving the workshop, each student paints a ceramic butterfly in memory of specific child killed in the Holocaust.
The Butterfly Project began in San Diego, California, by educator Jan Landau and artist Cheryl Rattner Price, with the goal of painting 1.5 million ceramic butterflies in memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. The LJCC expanded upon that idea by creating a full workshop. Since the inception of the project in 2008, more than 49,000 people have participated in a LJCC Butterfly Project workshop. The number of ceramic butterflies painted here represents approximately 17% of the worldwide total.
It is exciting to again have students from public, private, and charter schools in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties walking the hallways of Shalom Park between segments of the workshop, admiring the artwork on the walls and the pieces of art in display cases, engaging with staff and the many volunteers who help make the workshops happen, and sometimes marveling at the fact that a Jewish institution is no different from any other institution in many ways. We look forward to hosting another 3,000 students before the end of the 2021-22 school year.
The LJCC Butterfly Project was not immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our workshops came to an abrupt halt on March 13, 2020, when the LJCC, like so many other institutions, temporarily halted its operations. At that time, more than 1,500 students from 12 schools were scheduled to attend a workshop before the end of the school year.
Given the continuing rise in antisemitism, racial inequities, and other forms of discrimination, the lessons taught at the LJCC Butterfly Project seemed more relevant than ever. We decided to offer remote workshops, Zooming with students who were attending school virtually from home. Between March 13, 2020, and November 2021, more than 5,400 students participated in our online workshops, joined, in many instances, by parents and other family members who overheard the material at home and were drawn in by the content.
In addition to now welcoming back students, we are pleased to welcome back our amazing and invaluable volunteers. The workshops could not happen without the help of four to six volunteers each session. Volunteering is easy and satisfying, and we truly could use more help!
With only one dedicated staff member, the help of volunteers is crucial. There are many volunteer opportunities with each workshop, including setting up for the painting of the butterflies, facilitating small group activities, helping students read aloud the name of the child the student is memorializing, and leading one of the educational discussions or the tour of the memorial.
Long-time volunteer Fran Schuler has said, “Every week is inspiring to me, just to listen to the questions the children ask and also to listen to the answers they give…” Lay committee co-chair, Judy August, one of the original volunteers who recently resumed volunteering at workshops says, “The ability to schedule my volunteer time on specific dates rather than making a regular ongoing commitment has allowed me to volunteer even though I work — it’s really wonderful!”
If you are interested in volunteering for the LJCC Butterfly Project, please contact Emily Russell, Butterfly Project administrator, at [email protected]. Our motto: “Our volunteers are not paid … not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”
The goal of the Levine JCC’s Butterfly Project is to teach each participant to remember the past, to act responsibly in the present, and to create a more peaceful future.