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Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Paper Clips

Last night I went to see the movie "Paper Clips". For those who have not heard about it, it is the true story of a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee who embarked on a project to teach their students about tolerance, using the Holocaust as an example of what happens when prejudice goes unchecked. This school in Tennessee is almost completely made up of white Protestants. The administration, in recognizing this, decided to do something about it. They sent their assistant principal to trainings to get ideas for diversity training for his students. The ultimately decided that Holocaust education would be an appropriate topic. While in the initial stages of the program, one of the students asked her teacher to try to demonstrate what 6,000,000 (for the 6 million Jews who were killed) looked like, because she was having a very difficult time imagining it. The teacher told her to come up with something that she would like to collect 6 million of and they would attempt to accomplish it. The students did research and decided on paper clips. And they wanted paper clips from others. They wrote letters, ended up being featured in the Washington Post and on NBC Nightly News and they eventually received an amazing 29 million plus paper clips. What struck me the most about this incredible project was that the school's administrators took the initiative to combat stereotypes, prejudice and hatred. They didn't have to. They wouldn't be faced with it on a regular basis. But they recognized that they didn't know what diversity looked like, and they didn't want their students to write off others because of their ignorance. And in doing this project, they also realized a lot of the prejudice that they held and make inroads into combating it. The other thing that struck me was on the reverse side. This school, and eventually the entire community, used the Holocaust as a basis for fighting discrimination and hatred. But what is the reverse is what I see on the Jewish side of things. Just this past Shabbos, I heard someone complain about the "shvartze" on the Sprite bottle and how he didn't think it was appropriate for his Shabbos table. There were also a couple of comments about "goyim" and their values made. This is not present among every single Jew, but it is prevalent. So why does the Holocaust inspire tolerance among non-Jews and intolerance among Jews? I am sure there are many reasons, fear among the highest. But I personally would like to see more Jews take from the Holocaust the lesson that they wouldn't want what happened to them to happen to anyone else. That as horrible as it was to be persecuted for their religious affiliation, they wouldn't dare stand for it happening to anyone else. For negative stereotypes to stand in the way of getting to know another person, or giving that other person a fair chance at being an upstanding human being. I think the lesson that "Paper Clips" teaches - that intolerance and prejudice lead to evil and hurt, is the lesson we should all try to learn.


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