Remembrance and hope, in Hebrew zikaron v’tikvah, are the themes of the Butterfly Project, an international effort to teach social justice through the lessons of the Holocaust.
On Sunday, Jan. 28, from 1 to 4 p.m., Southern Arizona residents and visitors can travel Tucson’s Butterfly Trail, seven installations of colorful ceramic butterflies that commemorate the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.
Participants can pick up a Butterfly Trail passport at any of the seven locations and stamp it at each stop they visit.
The Butterfly Project began at the San Diego Jewish Academy in 2006. Since then, installations have been created in all 50 states and almost two dozen countries around the world.
But Chaverim’s Rabbi Stephanie Aaron says Tucson’s trail linking multiple sites is unique.
Aaron says the trail idea came years before the first Tucson site was finished. Amy Gould, a local philanthropist who had seen a Butterfly Project display in Charlotte, N.C., suggested the trail during a meeting with Aaron and Michelle Blumenberg, then executive director at Hillel.
There are also stops on Tucson’s Butterfly Trail at non-Jewish organizations – the Children’s Museum, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and Tucson Medical Center – emphasizing that Holocaust education is important for everyone, not just the Jewish community.
Mayor Regina Romero kicked off last year’s inaugural tour at the Children’s Museum and will do so again this year. Several Holocaust survivors will be there to share their stories.
The display at the Children’s Museum was created in conjunction with Ben’s Bells, a Tucson-based organization that promotes kindness. Visitors to the Children’s Museum during this year’s Butterfly Trail tour can paint and take home a Ben’s Bells coin.
The sites at Chaverim and the Children’s Museum are dedicated to the memory of Kelsey Luria, who died in 2015 at age 18 of a rare form of leukemia. Aaron explains that Kelsey’s father, Michael, was executive director of the Children’s Museum when it designed the display.
Kelsey’s mother, Maya, is a program director at TMC, which installed a Butterfly Project on a pedestrian bridge.
Chaverim lay leader Cynthia Feig happened upon that bridge on a 2022 visit to TMC, sparking a conversation with Aaron.
“We said wouldn’t it be neat if other people could go and visit each place,” recalls Feig, who’d painted butterflies for Chaverim’s display.
She and the rabbi agreed it would be great if it could be done in one day. They decided to tie it into International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Part of the Butterfly Trail is a pledge, borrowed from the Holocaust Museum Houston, that encourages people to” be a force for good,” to “stand up in the face of intolerance” and “make hope the only choice when faced with hate.”
Last year, after traveling the Butterfly Trail with his young daughter, Shalev Roisman was moved to write about the experience for Chaverim’s newsletter.
Roisman, the grandson of survivors, wrote about coming across a quote by a famous professor of Jewish history, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, who asked, “Is it possible that the antonym of ‘forgetting’ is not ‘remembering,’ but justice?”
For Roisman, this idea is “deeply wrong.”
“When it comes to the Holocaust,” he says, “there is no justice — what could justice possibly look like for such atrocities? There is only remembering.
“Tragically, we do not know all the names of those who perished,” he says. “I don’t even know the names of my grandfather’s four children who were murdered in the Holocaust. But we can remember the people who died nonetheless.”
Being able to do so in Tucson, in the company of others, Roisman wrote, makes him “grateful to live in this community.”
At the Tucson Jewish Museum & Holocaust Museum, Holocaust education is a daily part of the mission. But the Butterfly Trail tour is an added cue for visitors.
The museum, says TJMHC Executive Director Lori Shepherd, “is honored to be one of the stops along Tucson’s Butterfly Trail and to use this special day of remembrance as an opportunity to educate our visitors not only on the dangers of hatred and extremism but also on the courage and resilience of the children of the Holocaust.”
At TJMHC, the family-friendly activity will be making butterfly-themed cards.
Other tour activities this year include painting butterfly magnets at the Tucson J, planting butterfly-friendly flowerpots to take home at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and contributing donations for the Community Food Bank at Tucson Medical Center.
Aaron says three more Butterfly Project sites are in the works for Tucson, including one at Tucson Hebrew Academy; one at Imago Dei Middle School, which often partners with THA; and one that will be sponsored by the Rotary Club of Tucson.
“I’m really jazzed about that,” she says, noting that it would give Tucson a “minyan” of 10 sites.
Aaron encourages people to see the Butterfly Trail as “a unifying effort for all Tucsonans … sites where we can ponder what we want our town to be, what we want citizens in our town to feel: that they’re safe from bigotry, they’re safe from prejudice, they’re safe from danger and violence.”
“It’s a vision,” she says.