Rachel

When I called my Mom to tell her that one of her paintings had just sold at a Gallery in La Conner, she was overjoyed.

Rachel was in her early 90’s and hadn’t started painting until she was in her 80’s.

Why?  A little thing called the Holocaust had basically robbed her of her childhood, especially in her teen years, when she was denied an education and had to heroically focus on getting all of the paperwork done to get her parents and younger brother the papers they needed to get to America before the scheisse hit the fan.

My mother’s heroics are documented in my Uncle Harry Rosenfeld’s wonderful memoire, From Kristallnacht to Watergate.  While Rachel had to help run her parents fur shop in New York, Harry, nine years younger, was able to finish his education and he eventually became Woodward and Bernstein’s editor at the Washington Post.

Rachel passed away two years ago, after having an incredibly productive life, and my siblings and I wanted to honor her life and legacy with an art therapy class for refugee kids.  I was introduced to a remarkable young man, Benjamin Swatez, who had just returned to the Skagit Valley from  the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Amman Jordan.

Benjamin has had a remarkable life for a man in his mid-thirties, having done trauma art therapy with child soldiers and sex slaves in Africa as well as kids in the slums of many Latin American countries.

Working with Voices of the Children, a non-profit organization based in Skagit Valley, Benjamin started designing a mural at Laventure Middle School in Mount Vernon and took it to Za’atari for those kids to finish and then reversed it, starting a mural in Za’atari that finished here in the Skagit Valley.  Those murals are now living in a museum in San Diego, California.

Last year, working through Voices of the Children, we launched Rachel’s heART at the Oasis Shelter in Mount Vernon and focused on trauma therapy through small art projects. My sister Janice and brother Peter and I used the last funds that Rachel left behind to fund the program.

After its resounding success, we decided to expand the program this summer which will result in a mural in downtown Mount Vernon celebrating the contributions that immigrants have made to this country, with tremendous support from Mayor Jill Boudreau and the Mount Vernon Downtown Association.

We are starting a fundraising drive this week through the Voices of the Children website, VOTChildren.org, and any contributions can be designated to Rachel’s heART and are fully tax deductible.

Mom was already smiling in heaven this week as the USO in Palm Springs created a poster including a picture of Rachel, a 90-year-old volunteer, putting a stitch in the 911 Flag that toured the country.  Rachel is now the Poster Child featured along with Bob Hope on a donated Mercedes Benz that is tooling around the desert.

An enduring mural in Mount Vernon celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants like herself just may send her over the moon.

DONATE HERE: VOTChildren.org