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Butterflies and emotions soar at JCC exhibit

By Eva Trieger

Eva Trieger

Eva Trieger

SAN DIEGO — “I didn’t choose the Butterfly Project…it chose me!” Artist and guest speaker Cheryl Rattner Price is referring to the deeply moving and transformational exhibit currently displayed in the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s Gotthelf Art Gallery.  This show is not only poignant and profound, but also artistically compelling and uplifting as 26 artists unite to bring us a visual journey from our darkest days to our hope-filled future.

I had the good fortune to speak with four of the contributing artists, and each of their stories and their work moved me. James Watts is no newcomer to the Gotthelf Art Gallery, having shared his contemporary folk art in previous exhibits.  In addition to prior shows, Watts ran the summer Art Camp for the JCC.  He refers to himself as an “art maker”.  Watts is self taught and allowed himself to explore art after an unfulfilling foray into the writing world. He is a poet as well, and enjoys performance art.  He told me that with the “Transformations: The Butterfly Project and Beyond” that “I didn’t know if I could do it until they asked me.”  Judging from his work, I would say, he could!  Watts also has a gallery space at 1046 7th Avenue in San Diego.

Sandra Berlin-Kroll has a background as an educator at Grossmont and Southwest Colleges.  She is also an Allied Crafstman and a member of the Artist’s Guild.  Currently this artist/educator uses her expertise to work in therapeutic rehabilitation at Alvarado Hospital.  She finds that her current “students” enjoy the healing value in working with clay.  Berlin-Kroll is exhibiting a spectacular piece entitled Chrysalis.  This piece has a great deal of symbolism and is conveyed in three disparate parts. It is fully hand built and was sculpted from one single piece where the artist was able to “transfer my thoughts and emotions” to the various phases of transformation. The first displays a reddish tone of broken wings, symbolizing the children who died in the Holocaust.  In the second transformation a heart sustains us and while we see that a heart has emerged, it isn’t able to fly.  In the third phase, the transformation is possible and inevitable, a butterfly “soaring upward with unlimited human potential.”  With butterflies painted by the artist’s grandchildren we see the covenant between this chrysalis and future generations.

Chrysalis by Sandra Berlin-Kroll

Chrysalis by Sandra Berlin-Kroll

Torah mantle by Jacqueline Jacobs

Torah mantle by Jacqueline Jacobs

My next interviewee has graced the pages of the San Diego Jewish World and its predecessor San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage before. Jacqueline Jacobs and her Torah scroll cover, both have an amazing history in Judaica and Yiddishkeit as they journeyed from their native homes to the Gotthelf Gallery. This Chilean native grew up in Santiago where her parents steered her towards a more practical career.  After earning a medical degree, and practicing, Jacobs had the opportunity to explore her passion as an artist, in clay, painting and weaving.  Jacobs married, and sent her children to Hebrew Day school and learned about Judaica along with them.  She began making ritual objects and through her art, unearthed her own Jewish neshama.  “Judaica was my doorway to Judaism,” Jacobs shared with me.  Through the weaving of tallitot, chuppas, and crafting hand painted Torah covers, Jacqueline Jacobs re-entered her faith.

In 1986, Jacobs was commissioned to make a Torah cover for a scroll that had been rescued from the planned Museum of Extinction, the Nazi storehouse for Jewish objects.  Number 568 was restored by a scribe and brought to Tifereth Israel as a gift from the Holocaust survivor and grandmother of a bat mitzvah.  This beautiful mantle illustrates the transformation of Jews from the bleakest days of marching into the gas chambers to the brilliance of a new generation, awash with hope and bright colors.   The woven, hand painted, and quilted cover bears Maimonides words “Ani Ma’amim” proclaiming the faith that has sustained our people in every dire situation over the centuries.

And the woman behind the Butterfly Project?  Cheryl Rattner Price was never a “fan” of Holocaust studies.  She recalled, for me, as a young girl, having to play piano for a survivor in a nursing home, and being filled with trepidation.  Later, as she met survivors and heard their stories, Price was “astonished at the love, zest for life, and gratitude” so many of them share.  In 2003, through the Center for Jewish Culture, Price began to take classes at the Florence Melton School of Adult Learning.  A few years later, the artist came on board at the San Diego Jewish Academy where she was given a platform, a blank slate.  This period served as a springboard for transforming her personal relationship with Judaism.  The Butterfly Project was inspired by the documentary “Paper Clips”, and the poem written by Pavel Freidmann, a child in the Nazi camp Terezin.  Each ceramic butterfly symbolized one of the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.  The butterflies were lovingly created and painted by school children, adults, and Holocaust survivors.  Other migrations swarmed in from Mexico, Israel, New York, Texas, Florida, Chicago and Toronto, listing just some of the sources. The project expanded as Holocaust survivors came to speak in classrooms and share their experiences with children.  Active participants included the Anti-Defamation League, the Leichtag Family Foundation and several schools both near and far.

Cheryl Rattner Price became more inspired and driven as the project grew.  She told me “it is so incredible to be able to lead this project that takes something so tragic and aims to create beauty to honor the lives lost and the survivors.” In 2012, Price and her crew paid their own way to join the San Diego Jewish Academy’s seniors on their trip to Poland.  They visited a Jewish school in Warsaw where the students were warmly welcomed and, together they put up the butterflies, while singing Hebrew songs and sharing a meal.  Following this incredible experience, Price found a JCC in Krakow where she was invited to put the butterflies on the building.  On July 4th, coinciding with Krakow’s Jewish Cultural Festival, Price, perched on a cherry picker, placed the very butterflies that had been painted by Holocaust survivors, on the wall as a publicly visible symbol of hope and remembrance, zikaron v’tikvah. She told me that words could not describe the sense of euphoria, pride and belonging resonating within her. The entire project has transformed Price’s life, as well as returned the dignity and has allowed “our young people to pay proper tribute to those with no voice. “

Eva Trieger is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.  She may be contacted via [email protected] .  San Diego Jewish World seeks sponsorships to be placed, as this notice is, just below articles that appear on our site.  This is an ideal opportunity for your corporate message or to personally remember a loved one’s contributions to our community.  To inquire, call editor Donald H. Harrison at (619) 265-0808 or contact him via [email protected]

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One Response to “Butterflies and emotions soar at JCC exhibit”

  1. Lea Weinberg says:

    I am touched by your exhibit, and was glad to hear about it, a friend artist forwarded me the link. As a second generation to Holocaust survivors and an artist I feel obligated to present a visual message preserving the stories I have personally heard. My mother’s Personal Story intertwined with the tragedy of Human History expressed through a contemporary six series installation, in my solo Exhibition “MOTHER-SURVIVOR in memory of my mother and many others” the opening will be March 30, 2014 in the Kanner-Kurzon Museum Beth El Synagogue Center, New Rochelle, NY


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