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Meijer Gardens announces Holocaust memorial gift, sculpture acquisition

Meijer Gardens conservatory.JPG
Posted at 9:00 AM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 09:00:34-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has received a gift from the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids in order to establish the first Holocaust memorial in the city, anchored by Ariel Schlesinger’s “Ways to Say Goodbye.”

The gift was made possible by a donation from the Pestka family in memory of their father Henry, the survivors who settled in West Michigan and the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust, according to a news release Monday.

“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is highly honored and very pleased to receive this significant and meaningful gift to acquire Arie Schlesinger’s monumental sculpture ‘Ways to Say Goodbye,’” said David Hooker, president and CEO of Meijer Gardens. “The sculpture will be installed in 2022 and dedicated in memory of Henry Pestka and the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. We are deeply grateful for this gift adding such an important work of art to our permanent collection. Our members and guests will forever benefit from this extraordinary gift which will serve to educate and promote peace.”

“Ways to Say Goodbye” is a 20-foot aluminum cast of a fig tree that has shards of glass inserted among the branches.

Schlesinger uses the tree as a metaphor for both the Jewish people and their history.

The aluminum cast sculpture is of a living fig tree that he found on a farm while traveling in northern Italy and was specifically chosen for its character and as a symbol of the Jewish struggle for survival both during and after the Holocaust. The tree seems to be clinging to life but also represents great endurance, according to Meijer Gardens.

Schlesinger has commented that in conceptualizing the sculpture, he held pieces of broken glass in his hands that pressed into his fingers, recalling Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” which was the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust. That night, Nazi mobs murdered Jews and destroyed Jewish property and synagogues throughout Germany.

Meijer Gardens and the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids envision “Ways to Say Goodbye” as a gathering place for the Jewish community of Grand Rapids.

“As time goes on and memories of the Holocaust fade, it is important to remember the barbarity human beings are capable of,” Steve Pestka said. “It is equally important to contemplate the strength of the survivors and their ability to continue and rebuild their lives. It is our hope that this work of art will promote an appreciation of our shared humanity and a reminder that hatred and intolerance continue to this day and the consequences of the ultimate dehumanization of human beings.”