Yeshivas Mekor Chaim student Baruch Zev “BZ” Openden, creator of the mural, is flanked by Dr. Aziza T. Shad (left), Sinai’s chief of pediatrics, and Mary Jane Hebert, director of the hospital’s department of pediatrics. (Photo by Peter Blair/LifeBridge Health)
Nearly three years ago, Baruch Zev “BZ” Openden, then a student at Ohr Chadash Academy, received international honors when selected as a winner of the “My Family Story Project” competition sponsored by Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfusot: Museum of the Jewish People.
His entry for the competition — which encourages students to research their family roots to design an original artwork — was a colorful guitar honoring the memory of his musically inclined grandfather.
Now 15 and in the ninth grade at Yeshivas Mekor Chaim, BZ, who lives in Pikesville, has once again turned heads with his artistry, determination and sense of compassion.
On Tuesday afternoon, Apr. 11, a sculpture by BZ was officially dedicated at a ceremony in the lobby of the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai. The artwork was created by BZ, who attends Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim, two years ago for his bar mitzvah project, but COVID-19 visiting restrictions at the hospital prevented a dedication ceremony from taking place until now.
In his artist’s statement, BZ said he wanted the sculpture, featuring the Shema prayer, to bring a sense of joy and hope to the hospital’s young patients.
He wrote that he and his family “decided to join forces with Chai Lifeline, a volunteer organization that brings joy to seriously ill children and their families. … I worked with my art teacher, Miss Alli Fisher from Ohr Chadash Academy, and Baltimore Clayworks to come up with a project that would symbolize our separate but connected existence during the pandemic.
“On the day of the event, children from Chai Lifeline, along with some of my family and friends, gathered under a large tent to make art together. Baltimore Clayworks instructors guided us with techniques to make colorful, abstract art using the clay squares while I focused on the letters that would form the center of the mural.”
Over the next few weeks, BZ worked closely with Clayworks to glaze, assemble, glue and grout all of the sculpture’s squares.
“During a pandemic, when we experienced a physical separation from one another, we still had our faith and humanity to keep us connected to one another,” he wrote. “I felt this connection strongly the day we met with the children of Chai Lifeline to create our unique piece of art.”
Among the attendees at the ceremony were BZ and his parents Joseph and Yona Openden and his siblings Esti, Elana and Coby, as well as Dr. Aziza T. Shad, Sinai’s chief of pediatrics, and Mary Jane Hebert, director of Sinai’s department of pediatrics.
“He’s a really cool kid,” said Yona Openeden said of her son. “Art is a passion of his, but he’s also very scientific and mathematically oriented. … He’s just one of those kids who looks outward and not only inward. Teenagers tend to be inner focused, so I hope this shows kids a way to see what you can do more broadly by sharing these moments with other people and children.
“This was just an idea he had, to have a bar mitzvah party in a hospital with kids who couldn’t normally celebrate, and we wanted to make his dream of his come true,” she said. “I’m just so happy this finally happened.”