Silk Butterfly Project a soulful way to celebrate Jewish heritage

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When psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross visited the Maidenek concentration camp in 1946, she found hundreds of butterflies etched on the walls of the children’s barracks. Some had been engraved with pebbles, and others scratched with fingernails, but all of them represented a message which took Kübler-Ross 25 years of working with dying patients to fully comprehend. In spite of the awareness that their young lives were drawing to a close, the children left the butterflies as representations of their eternal souls, which would live on forever.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Dec 13, 2018

A total of 1.5 million children under the age of 16 lost their lives in the Holocaust. Today, the surviving population is rapidly diminishing. Who will ensure that that the memories of these young innocents are perpetuated from one generation to the next?

The Silk Butterfly Project, founded by musical theatre coach Vicki Mervis, is inspired by Kübler-Ross’s discovery. The project is a non-profit organisation that gives South African children about to celebrate their Barmitzvahs or Batmitzvahs the opportunity to twin with a young Shoah victim of a similar age. With silk being one of the strongest natural fibres, it aims to give Jewish youth an enduring thread to their history, heritage, and the humanitarian ethos that epitomises the Jewish way.

“Although we cannot bring [the Shoah victims] back to life,” says Mervis, “the twinning programme ensures that we keep the flame of memory burning, and honour these children on an individual and collective level.”

An enthusiastic group of B’notmitzvah girls at Johannesburg’s Great Park Synagogue recently had the chance to share their simchas in this way. Each participant was given the name of a young person who perished in the Holocaust, and directed to a Yad Vashem website where they could learn more about their “twin”.

In light of the overwhelming number of children murdered by the Nazis, there is often very little biographical information about the victims. To counter this, the participants are encouraged to imagine the lives of their twin: what they looked like, the pastimes they enjoyed, their hopes and dreams, and what they may have grown up to become.

Each participant honoured the memory of her twin with a short presentation, and a moving candle lighting ceremony, as well as by lighting Shabbat candles, led by Robyn Smookler.

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