It started with a walk around my old neighborhood. As I continued along a busy main street, I passed by a small group of yellow flowers. Something was tugging at me to backtrack. This time, I listened to my intuition and did just that.
There, within the yellow daffodils, was a sign. I bent down to read it. And then I read it again:
“Resilient, bright and filled with hope, these daffodils, which return with a burst of color each spring, are part of the worldwide Living Holocaust Memorial that aspires to plant 1.5 million daffodils in memory of the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust and for children who suffer in humanitarian crises around the world today. www.daffodilproject.net.”
I took out my phone, snapped a few photos and continued my walk (I was taking steps to be heart-healthy, a promise I’d made to myself through my involvement in Every Beat Counts: Hadassah’s Heart Health Program®.)
A few days later, while speaking with Judy Siegel, the president of my synagogue, Congregation Agudas Achim, in Sullivan County, NY, I told her about the garden and the sign. “Can we participate in The Daffodil Project?” I asked.
She asked me what I wanted to do. I responded, “Can we plant a daffodil garden at the synagogue?” She said, “If you can make it happen, go right ahead.” That was the beginning of the first Daffodil Project Garden in our area.
And what has happened since that conversation? We partnered with the organization, asked a few people to help, and, from there, the project bloomed. We thought the symbolism of planting the garden on September 11th would be appropriate, as did other volunteers. It became our community’s Day of Service event.
On September 11, 2022, people of all ages gathered at the tilled 10 x 10-foot parcel of earth. They brought spades, water bottles and energy. Tobi and Steve Innerfield brought a Star of David, crafted from a remnant of the Twin Towers. Congregants, community members and future “friends-to-be” were among those who added their helpful hands into the mix.
What made this special? There, on a bench, sat a grey-haired woman. I learned that she was a Holocaust survivor. In forming our partnership with The Daffodil Project, we had committed to an educational component. We decided, “Let’s gather again in the spring, invite some students and arrange for them to meet this gem of a woman so she can share her story.”
During the ensuing months, with an exchange of emails and calls, we formulated a plan. As with many projects I get involved with, my husband also participated, as did Judy’s husband and other spouses and partners.
When it came to choosing the date, I wanted to connect our program to something the students would be learning about in history class. May 9th corresponded to Victory Day, the day the Nazis surrendered to the then-Soviet Union.
The sun came out on May 9, a Tuesday. That symbolism was not lost on me, since it connected to September 11, 2001, which was also a Tuesday. The young teens, walking down the street toward the shul (synagogue), were escorted by their teachers and local law enforcement officers. We needed law enforcement because the students were on a walking field trip, off school grounds. They were walking with their teachers along a town road, out in public, to Congregation Agudas Achim.
What happened during the close to 90-minute program that morning was more than the committee anticipated. What they heard from these two women, Marlene W., an invitee and a Holocaust survivor, and Eva B., the grey-haired women mentioned above and also a Holocaust survivor, had everyone captivated. As one of them reminded us: “When I close my eyes, I can see it today and breathe that burning smell of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. You should never know what I lived through.”
Because these women were both residents of the county and familiar to members of the congregation, we assumed that they knew each other. Well, we found out that, standing 10 feet or so from the daffodil garden, was the first time they had ever met. The garden we had planted less than a year earlier had bloomed, not only with real yellow daffodils, but with paper daffodils, made by the local kindergarteners, and jars of daffodils brought by Marlene, one of the Holocaust survivors. In the group photo, these two survivors of the Holocaust, were sitting side by side holding hands.
In my closing remarks, I left the students with this: “You, too, can become part of the energy that flows though the dirt and the bulbs, through the toil and triumphs of seeing those daffodils blossom.”
As they looked at the Daffodil Project Garden and listened to the two speakers, the students were given the seeds. They became the keepers and farmers of the garden, continuing to plant for generations to come.
Speaking with the students, thanking the volunteers and attendees, commending the teachers for the prep work they’d done with the students, and cleaning up from the event, I felt compelled to do more. As a result, we now have plans for the fall of 2023 to plant two more gardens in Sullivan County, NY, with a fourth location in the works for October 2024.
As a seasoned teacher, who has worked in both public and private schools, and as a Jewish woman, I find that the Daffodil Project Garden fits just right with my participation in Hadassah’s Educators Council. To paraphrase a description of the Council’s impact from one of its web pages, I am sharing my story, speaking about an issue that is important to me and gaining the power to effect change.
You can do that and more as a member of Hadassah at large, or one of its committees or professional councils. For example, through educational programs and grassroots advocacy, Hadassah mobilized communities across the country in support of the Never Again Holocaust Education Act, which aims to improve awareness and understanding of the Holocaust. It became national law in 2020.
Join me, one seed, one bulb, one step at a time. You’re in good hands, even if they become a bit soiled.
Hope Blecher, EdD, is a member of the Hadassah Educators Council.