Butterfly Project Memorializes Children Who Perished in the Holocaust

Olivia Bergman
left to right: Grace Hannigan, Kerri Hannigan, Olivia Bergman, Cathy Richman

SUMMIT, NJ - Olivia Bergman's Butterfly Party was in full flight at Congregation Beth Hatikvah (CBH) in Summit on Saturday, January 30th. Ms. Bergman, a seventh grader from Summit, gathered with religious school peers, friends and family to paint 100 ceramic butterflies in support of the Butterfly Project sponsored by the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA), whose worldwide mission is to collect 1.5 million ceramic butterflies in memory of the children who died in the Holocaust.

Ms. Bergman, who will soon celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah, chose the Butterfly Project for the community service component of her B'nai Mitzvah program. When asked why she chose this particular project, she said, "You always want to remember the past and understand it---these children's lives were wasted." Some artists worked independently, others in groups, schmoozing and snacking on refreshments while painting uniquely colored butterflies, each representing a child who died in the Holocaust. While the light mood may have helped deflect the heaviness of the subject matter, the meaning and thought behind the event was not lost on the participants.

Katia Segre Cohen, President of CBH, who participated in the event, said, "I loved the idea of the Butterfly Project and how the butterflies symbolize the fragility of life, and that wasn't the case for so many kids who died--- the 1.5 million kids who didn't make it to the next day."

"I thought it was a really nice idea," said friend Kerri Hannibal, of Summit, who commented that she had recently studied the Holocaust in school.

Ms. Bergman will contribute the butterflies she collects to the Jewish Community Center in Charlotte, North Carolina to be used in a permanent memorial sculpture being created with over 2,000 ceramic butterflies, which will be counted towards SDJA's greater goal. She said she also plans to select her favorite butterfly design to create her own unique memorial artwork, which she will donate to CBH.

While there are similar butterfly initiatives around the country, the San Diego project is the first to use ceramic butterflies to symbolize the lives of children lost in the Holocaust. The Butterfly project was the brainchild of Jan Landau, educator at SDJA, who in 2006 worked with artist Cheryl Rattner-Price to create the project they named Zikaron V'Tikvah, Hebrew for remembrance and hope.

The founders invited people from around the world to help them make butterflies to adorn the walls of the academy, a symbol of transformation, hope, faith, and religious freedom. The project soon became a huge international effort, with donations from countries as far away as Paris, China and Israel. Nearly 25,000 butterflies have been collected so far.

Zikaron V'Tikvah was inspired by "Paper Clips" a documentary about middle school students in Tennessee who collected six million paper clips to illustrate the number of Holocaust victims, and "The Butterfly," a poem written by Pavel Friedman, a young man who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. On their website, SDJA invites everyone, including families, clubs, and youth groups to participate in the Butterfly Project. No special skills are required.

Each group participating outside of San Diego is requested to send 18 butterflies to SDJA. The number 18 in Hebrew is "chai," which means life.

Painting workshops are approximately one hour, and there is no cost for materials or participation. Each person who creates a ceramic butterfly receives a certificate bearing the name of a child who died in the Holocaust.

Classroom Kits are available for purchase for those unable to make them. Contact project coordinator Rebecca Besquin at  or 858-704-3861

To make a donation: Zikaron V' Tikvah is entirely funded by private donations. A percentage of donations are sent to Darfur and Holocaust survivors in need. Contact Meg Goldstein at or 858-704-3706

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