• Gabbai

Acharei Mot / Shabbat Hagadol – Ritual

Last month I was invited to attend a reception in the Holocaust Center of New Zealand in honor of Joy Cowley, who became a patron of the Holocaust Center. Joy Cowley is in her 80’s a great grandmother and an author of over 1,100 books, most of them for first readers. Her name is well known to all New Zealanders who have children over 5 years old.

A feature of the reception was the button collection, a project by the day school to commemorate the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. Inspired by the Paper Clips project, the school had decided a number of years ago to build a similar project. In order to give some kind of grasp to the children of the meaning of millions they began collecting buttons, one for each child. The project gained publicity and the buttons began coming in. It took many, many months to eventually accumulate that number, and the buttons came from all over the world as well as from within the country. 5 students, who had participated in the project, were at the reception and they discussed the project and the impact that it had upon them. They described the laborious counting, the hours and hours of sorting, numbering, labeling. They spoke of the drudgery, the counting that became almost mechanical over the months. They would take home packages of buttons to count as homework. They mentioned the sense of relief when a box of buttons arrived in the mail pre-counted.

There were individual buttons with stories, buttons that came with unique backgrounds, even buttons that came off clothing from the camps. Slowly it dawned on the students the magnitude of the holocaust and the staggering number that is a million and a half.