But did you feel the butterfly in me Did you feel that my heart too is caged And fluttering and bound, and hoping for salvation And in the fringes of your coat is caught?”
Haim Nahman Bialik wrote this in a 1904 love poem titled “Tziporet” which is the old Talmudic word for butterfly, or, more broadly, “flying insect.” Perhaps this poem gave Eliezer Ben-Yehuda or his son Itamar the idea to use the Hebrew word pir-per, meaning to flutter, to coin “parpar” as the new word for butterfly. It first appeared in a 1910 poem with that title written by Ben-Yehuda’s son. Bialik then used parpar in one of the most famous lines of poetry he wrote: Perhaps as a butterfly around the flame dancing and twirling my soul will leave…(God Hadn’t Shown Me, 1911).
In March Akiva and JMS students joined “The Butterfly Project,” a national campaign to memorialize the 1.5 million children murdered during the Shoah. Inspired by I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a collection of poems, letter, and drawings by children imprisoned in Theresienstadt concentration camp, the program’s goal is to have children from around the world make and install 1.5 million ceramic butterflies.
Asclepias, more commonly known as milkweed were named for the Greek Goddess of healing which is ironic considering that some are toxic. However, Monarch and other butterflies cannot survive without them as it is the only plant upon which they lay their eggs and on which the caterpillars feed.
Perhaps the growing movement to encourage pollinators by planting native flowers which attract bees and butterflies could be undertaken by our schools, preschools, synagogues, and even the Holocaust Memorial to dovetail with the “other Butterfly Project” to help repair the world. When I worked at a preschool, we sold hamantashen for garden funds and the children and I planted milkweeds and other plants which attract native pollinators. It doesn’t cost much and is so much better for Nashville than planting more begonias. Marsha Raimi, daughter of Shoah survivors and a docent at the Nashville Holocaust Memorial, has said that they “absolutely want a butterfly garden there,” but that they are not ready yet. We can help them get ready because a little dirt never hurt as I used to tell my students. In butterfly gardens near our sacred and community spaces, children and adults would be able to see what those in camps could not, simultaneously remembering and helping to heal like the goddess Asclepias did..
The last, the very last, So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing against a white stone… Such, such a yellow Is carried lightly ‘way up high. It went away I'm sure because it wished to kiss the world goodbye. For seven weeks I've lived in here, Penned up inside this ghetto But I have found my people here. The dandelions call to me And the white chestnut candles in the court. Only I never saw another butterfly. That butterfly was the last one. Butterflies don't live in here, In the ghetto. Pavel Friedmann 4.6.1942
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