When Pavel Friedmann, a young inmate at the Terezin Concentration Camp in 1942, wrote about the last butterfly he ever saw, he described a dazzling creature escaping the ghetto and flying toward a more hopeful future. The beautiful butterfly mosaics that now fly on the wall of the Chase Family Holocaust Memorial Garden at the Merage Jewish Community Center echo that sense of hope.
On Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Merage JCC will dedicate the new Steven Fainbarg Children’s Holocaust Memorial as a permanent reminder of our commitment to remember the victims of the Holocaust, to educate our children about the dangers of hatred and bigotry, and to foster a world of tolerance and acceptance.
Fainbarg, a member of the JCC since the day the doors opened in August 2004, is one of its most dedicated supporters and one of Orange County’s leading Jewish philanthropists. He chose to dedicate the children’s memorial because he recognized that we cannot ensure a vibrant Jewish future without remembering our past.
“The Holocaust is an important part of our heritage. It’s a difficult subject matter, but we have a responsibility to talk about it,” Fainbarg said.
The memorial is the culmination of a program that began two years ago when the Merage Jewish Community Center decided to bring The Butterfly Project to Orange County. Founded in 2006 by educator Jan Landau and artist Cheryl Rattner Price in San Diego, The Butterfly Project aims to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies in memory of each of the children killed in the Holocaust. Members of the JCC and groups throughout the community were invited to learn the personal stories of children who perished and paint butterflies in their memories. More than 400 beautiful butterflies were created by people of all ages.
Hal Altman, Chair of the Board of the Merage JCC, is proud of the J’s role as an educational resource for the entire community. “Our mission is to create a welcoming Jewish environment not only for our members, but for all the residents of Orange County. We have hundreds of visitors each year who come to this garden for educational programs, memorial ceremonies, and opportunities to connect with the lessons of the Holocaust in their own personal way.”
The JCC holds an annual commemoration on Yom Hashoah V’Hagvurah—the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism—which marks the day that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out in 1943. Because of Covid-era restrictions, the dedication ceremony will be limited to a small audience, but as guidelines ease, the JCC staff hopes that all those who participated in The Butterfly Project will visit the inspiring memorial and take pride in their contribution to it.
To date, more than 250,000 butterflies have been painted around the world and are displayed in Poland, Israel, Australian, Argentina, Germany, Panama, and across the United States. “Thanks to Steven’s extraordinary generosity,” said Scott Braswell, Executive Director of the Merage JCC, “we are proud to host one of the most unique installations of these meaningful butterflies.” Artists Helen Segal and Cheryl Rattner Price designed and created the work.
“The children enrolled in our Aronoff Preschool who play every day in the playgrounds adjacent to this beautiful memorial are our future,” continued Braswell. “As they grow up and continue to participate in programs here at the J, we hope they will learn more about their heritage and strengthen their own Jewish identities.”
DEBBIE MELINE is the Director of Center for Jewish Life at Merage Jewish Community Center and A contributing writer
to JLife MAGAZINE.