Some people have conventional hobbies like playing guitar or cooking. But for Stacy Moore-Aronoff of Fredericksburg, joy comes from crafting sculptures out of balloons. It’s a hobby she turned into a business. And a business she used to make the statement that Black Lives Matter.
Over the summer, Moore-Aronoff created four displays showing solidarity against the injustice targeted at Black people. One went up on her yard, two others went up on the yards of friends and the last was put up on display in the lobby of her synagogue, Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg.
“It gave people an opportunity to talk,” Moore-Aronoff said of the sculptures. “There’s certain things we just don’t talk about because we’re not sure what to say. And you never know what to say if we never talk. So we need to have that dialogue.”
The inspiration came from a Facebook event hosted by Balloon Artists United Worldwide calling for balloon artists globally to create displays.
Tiina Rodrigue of Stafford is the president of the congregation’s board of directors. She said the congregation has a strong civil rights tradition, and on July 20, the synagogue posted on Facebook affirming its support for Black Lives Matter. While the members welcomed the sculpture and affirmation, Rodrigue said the synagogue received critical Facebook comments and emails from local residents about both.
“We had a lot of positive responses from our own congregants, but we did have several people who are not part of our congregation who reached out who accused us of being Marxist and being negative about the balloons and the associated affirmation,” Rodrigue said. “So it just really underscored to me the work that is left to do.”
Moore-Aronoff, 57, grew up in Queens, N.Y. Her educational background includes a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University along with two masters’ degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, one in social work and the other in public administration. Moore-Aronoff, who is African American, wasn’t raised Jewish, but discovered Judaism after meeting her now-former husband, a rabbi.
“Now, I’m not in love with my ex-husband anymore,” she said. “But I do love the faith that he introduced me to.”
For a time, Moore-Aronoff, her then husband and their son, Isaiah, lived in Philadelphia. It was at their synagogue there that her passion for balloons started to take off.
“There was always a reason to celebrate at the temple. So we were always decorating. So I just started decorating using balloons,” Moore-Aronoff said. “I love the fact that they make people happy.”
In 2001, after her divorce, Moore-Aronoff moved to Virginia. She launched her balloon business — Moore’s Balloon Décor — in 2006. She said she made the choice to go from a hobbyist to a professional out of a desire to have more control over her work schedule and income.
In 2016, Moore‐Aronoff’s son died in a car accident. He was two weeks shy of starting classes at Richard Bland College of William and Mary. In his memory, she founded the Isaiah Benjamin Aronoff Foundation. It provides a $500 college scholarship each year to one graduating senior at Northwood High School in Rockville, which her son attended. The foundation also sends care packages filled with snacks to college students around midterms and finals.
“I wanted to make sure that even though Isaiah couldn’t have it, [the struggles of college-life] didn’t hinder other people,” Moore-Aronoff said.
While her BLM sculptures are long deflated, Moore-Aronoff hopes the conversation they sparked will continue. Her most recent venture into advocacy involves balloon sculptures encouraging people to vote in the November election.
Moore-Aronoff’s work has left a positive impression on the 105 member families of the congregation, according to Rodrigue. She described the artist as a notable member of their community.
“[She] is one of the most magnanimous and energetic individuals I’ve ever met,” Rodrigue said. “She has gone through tremendous hardship and yet remains just a character filled with light and love. She lost her son not too long ago and the fact that she is still trying to heal the world and perform acts of loving-kindness just goes to show the type of strength that she has.”