What’s Jewish About Butterflies?



Temple Israel fourth-graders make art for Children’s Hospital in Troy.

Seeing a beautiful butterfly — what better way to brighten the day of someone who’s not feeling well?
It was this thought that inspired Temple Israel’s Tyner Religious School art teachers Betsy Besl and Marjie Benson to incorporate a community-inspired art project into the school’s fourth-grade Judaica class. During six Sunday school classes, more than 125 students designed and decorated four large wooden butterfly wall murals, using Popsicle sticks they painted as well as “google” eyes, mixed media and recycled materials for each different mural. The butterflies will be presented to the new Children’s Hospital of Michigan Specialty Center in Troy in January.

“Michelle Rosenfeld, a temple mom who works with the art director at Children’s Hospital and was our liaison there, mentioned the butterfly project to me,” said Besl. A 25-year member of Temple Israel, Besl teaches art to children ages 18 months to 18 years in the synagogue’s early childhood center, and elementary, middle and high schools. “We felt it would be a fabulous project for the fourth-grade class.

“The hospital provided the 4-foot-wide wooden cut-outs for the children to decorate any way they wanted,” Besl continued. “Michelle told me the hospital will have a dedication ceremony where 50 or more butterflies made by different schools, groups and organizations will be presented.”

Grace Serra, art adviser for Children’s Hospital, said, “Michelle has been an amazing help in reaching out to the community to engage as many kids as possible in making art for our new hospital in Troy. The butterflies made by the Temple Israel students will be used to distract kids from the stress and anxiety they may feel when they come to the hospital.

“One of the butterflies will be displayed where kids will be poked to get a blood draw. It’s an especially stressful place, and our goal is for them to focus on this colorful work that other kids made for them. The one with the eyes will hang in a hallway that leads to the pre-op room. We want the kids to enjoy the artwork rather than think about what’s coming next.”

Besl noted that there were other, older Temple Israel students who helped with this special project. Blake Rubenstein and Anna Segal, classroom madrichim, assisted her and Benson, a retired Detroit Public Schools art teacher who has been teaching at Temple Israel for more than 20 years.

The two teachers used the book What’s Jewish About Butterflies as a guide for their latest art project because, said Besl, with the many species of this delicate creature, varying in color, size and shape, butterflies remind us of all the variations and challenges found in the human race.

“As Maxine Segal Handelman and Deborah L. Schein wrote in their renowned book: ‘According to the creation story in the Torah, butterflies were created by God on the sixth day, the same day that humans were created. Observing butterflies in nature is a lesson in the awe of creation.’”
The act of creating art led to a lot of fun for the children as they worked on the butterfly murals. Four of the 9-year-olds who participated all expressed their enjoyment in helping the project take flight.

“It made me feel good that it will be hung in the hospital for people to see who don’t feel so well,” Maddie Charnas said.

Samantha Bloch was the young artist who created the face of the Popsicle stick butterfly. “It was fun to do something special to help children forget about sad things,” she said. “It was a huge honor, and I love being part of something so special.”

Sara Cohon agreed. “It was very fun, but a lot of work,” she said. “I love how it turned out.”2

Ella Young’s favorite part of the artwork was turning a plain butterfly into one with “a zillion eyes! I think the people at the hospital will feel better and happy,” she added.

In addition to the murals, the children made colorful get-well cards that Besl said would be given out to the patients.

She noted, “With brit (partnership with God) and gemilut chasidim (acts of lovingkindness), our children can span the bridge between our Jewish community and our wider secular community as they bring a lot of pleasure and perhaps a little healing with the beauty of their butterflies.” *

By Judy Greenwald/Contributing Writer

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