Lewis Griswold

Griswold: Visalia synagogue collects buttons for Holocaust memorial

When an envelope arrives in the mail at Congregation Beit Shalom synagogue in Visalia, member Cynthia Fischer can tell what's inside.

"Buttons," she said, picking up an envelope and checking the return address. "This one is from Frisco, Texas."

She opened it and pulled out of a plastic bag holding a few dozen buttons.

Other envelopes that came last week hailed from Indianapolis, Fresno and Tulare. They contained buttons that were placed next to several jars of already-counted buttons labeled 6,700, 7,000, etc.

Fischer, a para-rabbinic -- "assistant to the rabbi," she said -- is on a mission to collect 6 million buttons to commemorate the estimated 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

When the congregation gets to 6 million, she plans to place them inside six clear pillars and display them in a public place.

"I liked the button idea because they come in all shapes, sizes and colors -- just like the people murdered by the Nazis," Fischer said.

In Peoria, Ill., the Peoria Holocaust Memorial Button Project has a similar display, but Fischer said she was unaware of it. People often ask where the button-collecting idea came from, she said, adding that she came up with it on her own.

For Fischer, remembering the Holocaust is rooted in family history.

Her grandmother escaped the Holocaust by coming to the United States in the 1920s, but six of her seven siblings perished at Auschwitz.

"Collecting buttons is a small thing, but I think it will teach future generations about the Holocaust," she said.

So far, Beit Shalom has 200,000 buttons.

Anybody can contribute, Fischer said, adding, "Everyone has buttons in their drawers."

Last week, she picked up buttons from a senior center and a doctor's office, local churches have donated them and a round tin of buttons came from a woman who couldn't bear to throw out her mother's collection, Fischer said.

Assembly Member Connie Conway, R-Tulare, has a bowl for buttons in her Capitol office and has collected 1,200, her office said.

Today, buttons can be donated in person from 1 to 5 p.m. at Cafe 210 in Visalia, 210 W. Center Ave., where Congregation Beit Shalom is holding an Israeli Independence Film Festival, art exhibit, dancing, interfaith discussion and related events.

MINI-GRANTS: Third-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School in Dinuba are taking a field trip to Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, thanks to a $500 grant from retired teachers.

This year, the Tulare County division of the California Retired Teachers Association disbursed "mini-grants" of $200 to $500 to 14 teachers around the county, said Lynne Westgate, retired Visalia Unified teacher and past president of the group.

The group donated about $5,000 raised from contributions, fundraisers and dues.

In Poplar, sixth-grade teacher Keith Krenk at Pleasant View West School received $500 to buy books for the classroom, while Castle Rock Elementary in Woodlake was awarded $500 for a field trip to release class-raised trout into a river.

h4> How to help

What: Buttons for Holocaust memorial project

Where to send: Congregation Beit Shalom, 115 E. Paseo Ave., Visalia, CA 93277

More information: beitshalomvisalia