Seeing Stars

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Jewish star4Temple Israel fourth-graders’ art adorns Holocaust Memorial Center.

Combine a fun art project for kids with a chance to create Jewish community awareness, and you get some real stars from the effort.

This applies to both the 120 fourth-grade students at Temple Israel’s Tyner Religious School and their art project, four 4-foot-by-4-foot mosaic-inspired Stars of David, which can be seen at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC), 28123 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills.

Under the direction of art teachers Betsy Besl and Marjie Benson, and assisted by 15-year-old Blake Rubenstein of West Bloomfield, the students spent six Sundays working together, rolling hundreds of colorful strips of wrapping paper into tubes that they glued onto foam core stars, producing the mosaic-like effect. The children wrote their wishes for the world on the backs of many strips before rolling them up.

“Sharing a joyous Jewish activity with such an enthusiastic group of students was the best part for me,” said Besl of Farmington Hills. A 25-year member of Temple Israel, she’s been teaching art at the synagogue for 14 years in the Early Childhood Center and the religious school.

Lifelong Temple Israel member Benson of Oak Park agreed. “The kids really looked forward to working together. Everyone was busy, everyone had something fun to do, and it meant a lot that this project was going out into the Jewish community.” A retired Detroit Public Schools art teacher, Benson has been teaching at Temple Israel for more than 20 years.

Two of the young artists shared what the project meant to them.

“It felt special, being Jewish and really embracing my culture,” said 9-year-old Allie Abrams of West Bloomfield, who attends Keith Elementary. “It was really fun working with the other kids.”

Sheiko Elementary School student Isabel Johnson, also 9 and a fellow West Bloomfield resident, said she had a good time creating the stars. “I enjoy art, and it wasn’t hard because lots of people worked together.”

When asked, both girls replied their wish was for peace.

The teachers knew this hopeful message was one to be promoted, and when Benson contacted the HMC’s Director of Education Robin Axelrod about the stars, Axelrod’s response was immediate and positive.

“HMC is delighted and honored to display the Temple Israel religious school’s Stars of David,” Axelrod said. “Many visitors remark that in a museum that tackles the darkness of war and destruction, the students’ stars invoke light and hope.”

Besl noted the artwork would remain at the HMC for about five to six weeks, and following that exhibition, will find a permanent home at the Jewish Senior Life (JSL) residences.

JSL Associate Director of Aging Services Barbra Giles expressed real pleasure about receiving the Temple Israel schoolchildren’s handiwork.

“We’re excited about displaying the stars at the Jewish Senior Life apartments in Oak Park and West Bloomfield,” she said. “Our residents truly will appreciate these stars, which were hand-crafted by such talented young people.”

Besl said “Working together on these joyful, colorful stars, our students have learned the true meaning of community. They’ve created amazing art, and had a lot of fun doing so!”

 By Judy Greenwald, Special to the Jewish News

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