New Holocaust Memorial at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Generously Given by The Pestka Family

The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids received a generous gift from the Pestka Family in memory of their father, Henry, and the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, for Grand Rapids’s first Holocaust Memorial, located at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. 

The selected sculpture is titled Ways to Say Goodbye, by the Israeli artist, Ariel Schlesinger. Ways to Say Goodbye is an exceptional work of contemporary sculpture dealing with the themes of profound loss and grief and will beautifully serve as a memorial to the Holocaust victims of Western Michigan and the world.

About the Artist

Ariel Schlesinger (b. 1980, Israel) reveals the poetry, poignancy and potential of everyday things. Through precise interventions, creative engineering and trompe l’oeil, Schlesinger’s work challenges our perceptions and encourages us to look at the familiar in new ways. 

Schlesinger has lived and worked in many parts of the world, including the United States, Great Britain, Mexico and Germany. He grew up in Israel and received his undergraduate degree at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel’s oldest and most prestigious art school. He graduated from Columbia University in New York with a Master’s in Fine Arts. Schlesinger has had many notable exhibitions in Austria, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia and Switzerland. In 2019 he received a prestigious commission for a public sculpture outside of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. Schlesinger, has been written about in books and notable publications. 

Ways to Say Goodbye

Ways to Say Goodbye is a twenty foot tall cast aluminum tree that has sheets of glass between its branches. The cast is taken from a fig tree in Italy that the artist selected. In Judaic culture, the fruit tree is venerated as a source of life and new beginnings celebrated as Tu B’Shevat.

In Ways to Say Goodbye, the artist takes an organic form that metaphorically represents both the Jewish religion and the history of survival after the Holcoaust. The Book of Ezekiel in the Bible describes the special connection between G-d and the people of Israel: “And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree flourish” (Ezekial 17:24)

Schlesinger’s tree sculpture cast from a fig tree not only represents strength and endurance within a parched landscape but it also is a symbol of fragility. Schlesinger has commented how in conceptualizing the sculpture, he was holding pieces of broken glass in his hand, that pressed into his fingers. He then transferred the concept to the sculpture, embedding shards of glass into the branches. They represent the horrors of the Holcoaust experience, specifically the Kristallnacht, when the Nazis attacked Jewish people and Jewish business throughout Germany. 

The tree is a symbolic gesture of a hand that holds broken glass which suggests tragedy, grief and rebirth. Meijer Gardens and JFGR envisions Ways to Say Goodbye to become a gathering place for the Jewish community of Grand Rapids. The sculpture will be an excellent teaching tool for professional educators, and educators across the region to address the Holocaust and its legacy. 

The Meijer Gardens, JFGR and the Finkelstein Archives, plan to work together on developing interpretive elements that tell the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of the Grand Rapids Jewish community. The Finkelstein Archives, is in the process of creating a new website that honors the survivors of the Holocaust who settled in Western Michigan. In addition, Ways to Say Goodbye, will be part of the Meijer Gardens tram tour, providing an excellent opportunity to build awareness and understanding to visitors. Over 750,000 people from around the world visit Meijer Gardens (pre-COVID), we hope that this will equate to 750,000 opportunities to teach about the Holocaust and prevent trajedies in the future. 

The sculpture will be transported from England to Meijer Gardens, we look forward to the installation being completed in the next 10 to 12 months. We will keep the community updated with new details and community events surrounding the project. 

Thank you again to The Pestka Family, Linda, Steve, Alicia and Nathan, for this incredible gift to our community. 

JFGR Presents: Remarks from Gov. Whitmer (Sculpture Announcement)

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, June 30, 2022

Updates – Ways to Say Goodbye, June 2022

Breaking ground for Ways to Say Goodbye at Meijer Gardens, June 13, 2022.

JFGR Makes the News! 

Detroit Jewish News: A ‘Tree of Remembrance”

June 23.2022