Giving humanity wings of hope, understanding makes her an Alabama Bright Light

Giving humanity wings of hope, understanding makes her an Alabama Bright Light
Betzy Lynch in the Levite Jewish Community Center's butterfly garden in Birmingham. The garden lifts visitors' spirits in hope even as it reminds them of the great human costs of the Holocaust. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

For Betzy Lynch, there is a connection between Holocaust survivor turned literary giant Elie Wiesel and the butterfly garden at the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham.

The Nobel laureate and outspoken activist died last week at age 87. Wiesel authored 57 books, including “Night,” which describes the horror he survived at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II.

“It’s our responsibility to continue to tell the story, and just as Elie Wiesel could have decided not to embrace humanity after living through such horrible atrocities, instead, he dedicated his life to making us understand what happened,” said Lynch, executive director of the Levite Jewish Community Center.

Lynch walked us around the LJCC with humble pride. She moved here from Memphis four years ago, and loves that LJCC’s membership is split between Jewish and non-Jewish people.

“We love to share the Jewish faith and culture with everyone, especially those who are non-Jews. That is our goal, for everyone to come to a better understanding of our similarities and our differences,” Lynch said.

The LJCC offers thousands of Birmingham residents fitness, swimming, children’s programs and camps, biking and hiking trails, senior activities and tennis. One special feature is the butterfly garden, which greets visitors at the entrance with the symbol of the Holocaust. Lynch established the garden when coworker Priscilla Denard approached her with the idea.

“Priscilla did not want the memorial to be scary or sad, but to bring forth hope and light – and to be experiential in nature. We wanted people to stop and gain understanding,” Lynch said. “She was inspired by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center’s exhibit ‘From Darkness to Light.’ So we gathered that a butterfly garden and the use of Pavel Friedmann’s poem ‘The Butterfly’ would be beautiful.”

We stepped out to see the winged creatures, and a few fluttered around in different colors, shapes and sizes. They floated from flower to flower, carrying with them nectar – and the hope that humanity will one day be kind-hearted, compassionate, forgiving and merciful.

As the butterflies with rainbows for wings flew around us, I read the poem written by the young Friedmann. He died at Auschwitz, but his words will live forever.

Betzy Lynch is making sure they live in Birmingham, on the marble entrance of the Levite Jewish Community Center.

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 good-bye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,

penned up inside this ghetto.

But I have found what I love here.

The dandelions call to me

And the white chestnut branches in the court.

Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.

Butterflies don’t live in here,

in the ghetto.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected]

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