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Millions of Buttons Collected for Central Valley’s First Holocaust Memorial

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Six million buttons of many colors and shapes and sizes — buttons made of metal, wood, cloth, plastic, pearl and shell, plain buttons and buttons with patterns, textured buttons and flat buttons — soon will serve as a memorial in a garden setting at Chabad of Bakersfield to honor the lives of every Jewish woman, man and child killed in the Holocaust.

“We are focused on affirming the lives of every one of them,” said Rabbi Shmuel Schlanger, co-director with his wife, Esther, of Chabad of Bakersfield. “We are going to build this memorial to encourage people of all backgrounds to come here and to reflect on how they could counteract evil deeds of the past by replacing them with deeds of kindness, to make the future and the world more beautiful.”

They will be added to the 5.5 million already collected, donated by individuals across the country. Cynthia Fischer of Visalia, executive director of the California Holocaust Education and Resource Center, initiated the project.

“I started thinking about buttons, how they come in all shapes, sizes, colors and materials, and how that’s the way Jewish people come,” Fischer said.

Historical records indicate Jews settled in the Central Valley as early as the mid-1800s, many of them immigrants from Eastern Europe. Today, the area is home to just over 7 million people, but the Jewish population is not large, said Phyllis Farrow, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central California. “I would estimate there may be about 2,000 Jewish people in the Central Valley,” Farrow said

Once built, the Holocaust memorial will include benches, a fountain and trees, and the buttons will be on display along an outdoor wall already in place on the Chabad property.

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