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‘Butterfly Project’ Fuses Holocaust Education and Israel Education, Raises Hope

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

By: Daniela Ben Joseph, San Diego Jewish World

April 26th, 2022

SAN DIEGO — On the beautiful morning of April 10, The Butterfly Project in collaboration with the StandWithUs San Diego High School Department, held a Holocaust education program at the House of Israel. The International Village in Balboa Park where it is located, receives hundreds of visitors each weekend, making it the perfect venue to educate individuals of all backgrounds and cultures about the horrific history related to the Holocaust and about the Jewish homeland, Israel.

Stories of children murdered and robbed of their bright and beautiful futures were set up side-by-side with butterflies, a symbol of hope. StandWithUs (SWU) Southern California High School Coordinator Liora Berkstein and the Director of the SWU Holocaust Education Center Matt Lebovic, brought in an educational program they created, “Holocaust by Photos” to further showcase the stories of children directly affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust.

As tourists strolled through the pictures and piercing stories, they stopped and painted a ceramic butterfly, each representing a child not forgotten in history, but remembered for their loss. Then, they continued walking through the House of Israel, learning more about Jewish culture and values and the Jewish homeland. They conversed with staff from The Butterfly Project, House of Israel and StandWithUs San Diego and importantly, met Holocaust survivor Lou Pechi.

Holocaust survivor Lou Pechi shares a copy of his autobiography “I am Lubo: The Incredible Story of a Child’s Struggle to Survive” with StandWithUs Teen Leadership Council members Eduardo Pupko, San Diego Jewish Academy; Nicolas Esses, Torrey Pines HS, and Daniela Ben Joseph, San Diego Jewish Academy. Credit: StandWithUs.

Seeing people from all different cultures reading and acquiring knowledge about my people and what they have been through, transmitted the hope of The Butterfly Project onto me: that one person or one butterfly can make a huge difference for our future. By spreading awareness, we can ensure that no other child shall be painted and commemorated for their death, just as the 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust.

The power of storytelling was brought to the community through two powerful art forms, photography and painting. “We all know the famous saying, ‘a photo is worth a thousand words,’” said Liora. “A thousand words could also be used to describe the impact this day of education provided for the community of San Diego.”

It’s so difficult to wrap one’s mind around the tragedy of the Holocaust, and it’s an especially difficult topic to communicate to younger audiences. That’s why the focus of the program was hope, to prove that with education and remembrance, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Each butterfly painted is colorful and unique in its own way, just as how each of the children murdered in the Holocaust was as well. Instead of looking back on this enormous loss with a feeling of helplessness, we can paint one butterfly at a time to spread awareness and guarantee that these tragic events never repeat.

One of the most impactful aspects of this event was hearing from Lou Pechi. He was just a child when the war began, and like many others, did anything he could to survive. He ​​brought copies of his autobiography, I am Lubo: The Incredible Story of a Child’s Struggle to Survive. His testimony was heard and processed by parents and children of different religions and ethnicities and they all felt the same level of respect and admiration for his battle to stay alive and his survival. At the end of the day no matter how old or young, what religion, culture, beliefs, or background we are, we are all human.

Liora observed, “It was truly incredible to have community members come up to me and the teen leaders Daniela, Nicolas and Eduardo, and thank us for providing a unique and immersive way to learn and honor children in this way. It was heartening to see community members not only inquire if they could participate in this initiative, but also about how they can help to combat antisemitism. It is difficult to face the realities of hatred in today’s society, but it must be talked about and confronted. Local Jewish community members asked about antisemitism prevalent in schools and ways that this age-old form of hatred is being responded to. We were able to shed some light on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism and the importance of its adoption throughout the U.S. and the world.”

House of Israel President Ruth Mastron stated, “What an amazing experience to watch kids and teens connect with stories of children of the Shoah, and with child survivor Lou Pechi. To use a cliche deliberately, it brought to LIFE events that people of any age can never truly wrap their heads around, and demonstrated the triumph of survival, memory, and continuity. The House of Israel was honored to host StandWithUs/The Butterfly Project, and we look forward to displaying the beautiful butterflies for all visitors to enjoy.”

“It is so inspiring to watch young leaders, especially one that grew up with The Butterfly Project when we began at San Diego Jewish Academy, take the initiative 10 years later to amplify TBP’s work,” stated Cheryl Rattner Price, executive director/co-founder of The Butterfly Project. “We are grateful that Liora Berkstein, who now works at the Los Angeles office of StandWithUs, envisioned an event with San Diego Teens and the broader community of all backgrounds, at House of Israel. Ruth Mastron at HOI does so much to help the community learn about and engage with Israeli history, customs and advocacy and immediately welcomed us. The teens led an educational event about the Holocaust and underlined the importance of standing up to antisemitism in all of its forms. We are also very appreciative that Holocaust survivor Lou Pechi joined us and shared his story!”

(Left to right) Members of StandWithUs Teen Leadership Council Nicolas Esses, Torrey Pines HS; Eduardo Pupko; and Daniela Ben Joseph, San Diego Jewish Academy. Credit: StandWithUs.

Yael Steinberg, director of StandWithUs San Diego, attended the event and remarked, “This collaborative program was a perfect fit for StandWithUs SD. One of our goals is to reach different audiences. Together with our partners at House of Israel and The Butterfly Project, we provided Israel education as well as Holocaust education to Balboa Park visitors who might not have otherwise had that exposure. Imagine the honor of speaking to a Holocaust survivor on a Sunday morning! This program turned a casual Sunday visit to Balboa Park into an extraordinary experience and teachable moment for hundreds of people in just a few hours. The impact will be long-lasting and something that StandWithUs, our Kenneth Leventhal High School Interns and Teen Leadership Council as well as our partners can all be very proud of.”

This project has succeeded in overcoming barriers that we have as a society and appealed to a diverse group of people with the themes of remembrance and hope for the future.

* Daniela Ben Joseph is a current StandWithUs Teen Leadership Council Member and incoming StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern for 2022-2023. She is a junior at San Diego Jewish Academy.

To read the original article, please click here.


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