By Tova Norman
Although Sunday, Nov. 8, was cold, wet and windy, adults and students at Congregation Beth Shalom were outside planting daffodils as a memorial for the children who perished in the Holocaust.
“It’s a project of action, and it’s a way of actually making a difference to the next generation,” said Andrea Videlefsky, the founder of the Daffodil Project, a worldwide project designed to promote Holocaust education by planting 1.5 million daffodils to memorialize the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. The Daffodil Project is a program of the Atlanta-based Holocaust education nonprofit Am Yisrael Chai.
The shape and color of the daffodils are reminders of the yellow star Jews wore during the Holocaust. Yellow is also the color of remembrance, and the daffodils’ resilience as perennials represents hope for a future without genocide and the people who survived the Holocaust and built new lives.
The Daffodil Project has planted 180,000 daffodils at sites around the world so far. Beth Shalom added 540 bulbs at the recent planting.
Dr. Nadine Becker, who serves on the board of Am Yisrael Chai and is a member of Beth Shalom, helped coordinate the Nov. 8 event, which included a brunch and a presentation by Holocaust survivor Ilse Eichner Reiner.
“I’m thrilled that Beth Shalom has embraced this program and become a partner with Am Yisrael Chai and the Daffodil Project because I feel strongly that the project sends a good message to the community,” Becker said.
It is a message of hope and remembrance.
“Seeing the daffodils is a reminder of the children who perished and the innocent lives that were lost,” Becker said. “We all need to do everything that we can to prevent genocide in the world, to prevent hate and to never let this happen again.”
The message has resonated with many groups as daffodils have been planted from north Georgia to the Czech Republic.
Beth Shalom decided to participate in the Daffodil Project because the synagogue has designated this year as “The Year of the Torah.” The community is restoring a Sefer Torah from Czechoslovakia that survived being burned during the Holocaust.
The restoration of the Torah scroll, once thought to be too badly burned to be restored, will be completed by a sofer (scribe) Sunday, Dec. 6, and placed in the Beth Shalom aron kodesh (ark) during a ceremony Dec. 13.
“By restoring this Torah scroll, we are not just preserving a relic of the Shoah, but we are ensuring that the beautiful heritage of the Jewish community who loved and honored this scroll will never be forgotten and that Jews right here in Atlanta, Georgia, will keep the flame of their memory alive for future generations,” Beth Shalom Rabbi Mark Zimmerman said.
He said that the Daffodil Project has the same purpose.
“The daffodils which we are planting on the grounds of our shul will serve as a lasting memory of those children whose lives were cut short, and each year as they return with a burst of color in the springtime, they will signify the hope and resilience of the Jewish people.”
More information about the Daffodil Project, including the possibility of twinning a bar or bat mitzvah with a child killed in the Holocaust, is available by visiting www.daffodilproject.net, calling 855-665-4234 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m looking forward to the spring when I drive up to Beth Shalom and I see this daffodil garden.” Becker said. “I think that it will be a very powerful statement.”
Terrie Bryan, a member of Beth Shalom who attended the event, reflected on how the daffodils work as a living memorial. “I wanted the memory to keep going,” she said, “to keep them alive.”
“It was important to me that my kids do this and that we remember,” said Ilene Heller, who participated with her two children in the religious school. “I wanted to set an example for my kids.”
The daffodils will remind onlookers of the children who perished, but participants in the planting also will remember the story of Reiner, a child who survived against all odds.
Reiner, who is from Vsetin, Czechoslovakia, explained how “everything started to change” once the Nazis seized control of the country in 1938. First she was banned from piano lessons, then school, and then her parents were taken away.
She was among 150,000 Jews deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Of that number, 15,000 were children, only 150 of whom survived.
Alex Wittlin, a junior at Norcross High School who works at the religious school, said Reiner’s story was “astonishing. It made me think about how good my life is.”
Wittlin recognized the special nature of the Daffodil Project — taking a message and doing something about it.
“I think it is a very creative idea,” he said. “It gets people working together to memorialize all of the horrible events that happened.”
So despite the weather, the daffodils made it into the ground, waiting to bloom in the spring and, along with the Torah scroll, serve as living memorials.
“When I look at this old Torah scroll, I do not simply see the tragically successful attempt to eradicate Jewish life in the community from which it came. I also see all the simchas that were once celebrated around this Torah, the holiday services, the b’nai mitzvah, the aufrufs and the baby namings,” Rabbi Zimmerman said. “We will be privileged to bring this rare Sefer Torah back to life, enabling it to once again be used and read from in a synagogue.”
“This Torah that could have seen its end is really seeing a new beginning,” she said.
What: Chanukah celebration and Holocaust Torah dedication
Where: Congregation Beth Shalom, 5303 Winters Chapel Road, Dunwoody
When: Sunday, Dec. 13, 5 to 6:30 p.m. for Chanukah celebration, 6:30 to 7 for Torah dedication
Cost: $10 per adult, $7 per child
Photos by Tova Norman