Spread a little love: Magician masters new craft to give hope during pandemic

  • Firefighters at the Makalei Station receive 50 glass worry hearts from Barry Gitelson on Saturday.

  • Barry Gitelson places pieces of glass in his kiln to make “worry hearts.”. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Barry Gitelson has made more than 1,000 worry hearts for frontline workers.

  • Barry Gitelson goes through a batch of glass worry hearts he has made for frontline workers. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Barry Gitelson displays a batch of glass worry hearts he has made for frontline workers. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Generations of keiki in West Hawaii have witnessed the magic of Barry “The Great Barusky” Gitelson or have left one of his appearances with a balloon animal, but during the pandemic, unable to perform his craft, he has found another way to spread the magic of love and hope.

Gitelson’s hobby of glass fusing has turned into a labor of love. He has been creating what he calls “worry hearts” and donating them to frontline workers — and anyone else who may need one.

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“I started calling them worry hearts, instead of worry stones,” said Gitelson of the thumb-size glass pieces. “People have carried worry stones for centuries. Life is to be enjoyed, not worried over.”

The social isolation the pandemic has brought was difficult for the gregarious magician.

“Spiritually, it drives me crazy not being able to work,” he said.

Beside his magic show engagements, Gitelson worked at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm providing narrative of the early 20th century farm.

“I’m used to being around a lot of people,” he said. “I was at the farm five days a week, meeting people from around the world and sharing the Kona Coffee/Japanese experience with them. When that got cut off (because of the pandemic), it was hard.”

Gitelson had been making stained glass as a hobby for years, but starting getting bored with the process and decided it was time for something new.

“I remember when I was a kid, I saw a guy with a torch, taking glass rods and making swans out of them and thinking that was the coolest thing in the world,” he recalled. “So I thought I wanted to get a torch and start melting glass. I ordered a torch and started making beads, melting the glass around a metal wire until I got the design I wanted.”

He made more than a thousand beads, collecting them in a box.

“I knew that sooner or later, any glass that’s heated up has to be annealed,” he explained. “To anneal glass, you bring it up to a temperature of 900 degrees for a period of time and then let it cool, which strengthens the molecular structure.”

To do so, he purchased a kiln and then graduated to making tiles, self-learning through books and YouTube.

“I was crazy learning new techniques. It’s a slow but steady hobby,” he said.

When the pandemic hit, he was scrolling through one of his glass social media sites and saw someone making glass hearts and giving them away to frontline workers.

“It just clicked for me,” he remembered. “I said ‘what a great idea that is.’ I looked up how to make hearts and found the one that would work for me. So I started cranking them out. I knew I wanted to do something to make people feel just a little bit better.”

“When I do magic, it’s a short thing, but with this I could give them something to carry in their pockets,” he continued.

After making his first batch, Gitelson went on Facebook to display them. He offered them to whoever wanted the small symbols of love, and within a few days they were gone.

Doing batches of 50 at a time, he continued to produce the hearts and as of Friday had made 1,272.

He has taken 50 each to Hawaii Fire Department stations in Captain Cook, Keauhou, Makalei and Kailua, and at some point hopes to gift all of the west side stations. Any extras, he asked, be given to patients in stress while being care for.

Gitelson also delivered 208 to Kona Community Hospital, one for each nurse and is planning to gift them to nurses at Kohala Hospital in Kapaau and Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.

He said the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They were stoked,” he said.

He has even mailed out his worry hearts around the country, asking only for money to cover the shipping.

“There was a woman in Australia that saw what I was doing and asked if I could mail her 150,” he said, noting the woman said no one in the country was doing it and she thought it was a fantastic idea.

“I always have some in my pocket when I go out,” he said. “If I go to the store and someone is nice to me I will give them a couple.”

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He said the look in their eyes when he gives them the hearts is thanks enough.

“So many times, I’ve had people say to me ‘you don’t know the day I’ve had.’ It makes me feel warm and fuzzy,” he said. “I know I’m doing my small little part. If everybody could just do that, what a wonderful world we would have instead of the anger and hate — spread a little love.”