Teshuva Cocoons


During the period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, Jews focus on the process of teshuva (repentance).  The word teshuva comes from the Hebrew root shuv, meaning “to return.”  Through the process of teshuva, we try to return to our core selves, the better versions of ourselves that exist once we heal our relationships and shed the weight of the things we have done wrong.

While the process of teshuva begins during the High Holidays as we reflect on the previous year and commit to doing better going forward, the actual work of transformation that teshuva involves only starts after the holidays as we begin the hard task of growing into better versions of ourselves.  

For this project, students explore this process of transformation by seeing themselves as butterflies wrapped in a cocoon and envisioning what kind of person they want to be when they emerge.

Teshuva Cocoon 1
Teshuva Cocoons
Teshuva Cocoon 5

Supplies Needed:

  • Teshuva Cocoon Worksheet
  • Plastic water or soda bottles
  • Acrylic paints - multiple colors
  • Acrylic gesso
  • Watercolor paper (9"x12")
  • Watercolor paints
  • Butterfly Wing Template
  • Sharpie markers
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
  • Garden netting
  • Hot glue gun + hot glue sticks
  • Paint brushes
  • Palette paper
  • Cups for water


Step 1 - Introduce Project + Teshuva Discussion

Have a discussion with students about what teshuva is, stressing that the actual work of transformation takes place over the course of the year after the High Holidays are over.  Use the Teshuva Cocoon Worksheet, culminating in brainstorming the list of words describing the type of person they hope to become over the course of the year.


Step 2 - Prepare the Bottle

Give each student a bottle that will become the body of their butterfly.  Before students can paint the bottle, it needs to be primed with acrylic gesso (primer).  Give each student a half sheet of palette paper.  Students should pour some gesso onto the palette paper and then paint the entire outside of their bottle with gesso.  Then let it dry.


Step 3 - Cut Out Wings + Add Words

Give each student two sheets of watercolor paper and a Butterfly Wing Template.  Put the template over the two sheets of paper and the cut out the template.  Make sure to cut out the tab on the right side of the wing as part of the wing.  Do not cut along the dotted line.

Once the wings are cut out, students should use Sharpie markers to write the words they brainstormed on the Teshuva Cocoon Worksheet onto the wings.  They can use the words to start forming creative patterns on the wing.  Students should write on the front side of one wing and the opposite side of the other wing so that there will be a left wing and a right wing.


Step 4 - Paint Wings

Students should use the watercolor paints to paint the wings with creative patterns.  The patterns can help express the person they hope to become through the process of teshuva.


Step 5 - Paint Bottle

Give each student a half sheet of palette paper on which they will pour different color acrylic paints that they would like to work with.  Students should use these paints to paint the bottle.


Step 6 - Attach Wings

Fold down the tab on each wing along the place where the dotted line was on the template.  Apply some hot glue along the tab and then press the tab onto the side of the bottle.  Hold in place for 10-20 seconds until it dries.


Step 7 - Antennae

Take two pipe cleaners and twist the ends together to make one long pipe cleaner.  Then twist this around the neck of the bottle in order to form the butterfly's antennae.


Step 8 - Assemble Cocoon

Give each student a 68"x 25" piece of garden netting.  Using the hot glue gun, glue the two short (25") ends of the netting together.  This will create a giant cylinder.

Gather together one of the open ends of the cylinder and tie it off with a pipe cleaner so that one end of the cylinder is closed.  Through the remaining open end, insert the butterfly.  Gather together the netting on the open end and tie it off with another pipe cleaner.

The Teshuva Cocoon is now complete and ready to hang!




Rabbi Peter Stein

I teach Tanach, Talmud and Jewish Art at the Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL.  Over the past eight years, I have created Art & Tefillah Minyanim and Jewish Text & Art electives at two different Jewish high schools and have started training other teachers how to effectively use art in their classrooms.  My own practice as an artist includes acrylic painting, wax painting and abstract sculpture.  You can find my work at petestein.net.

I hold Rabbinic Ordination and an M.A. in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Yale.



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