By Eboo Patel
October 31, 2018
For several years during the early 2000s, my father in law was a consultant on housing in Pittsburgh. He kept a small condo in the city, and my wife and I would visit for weekends. Squirrel Hill was one of the neighborhoods we enjoyed most.
Strolling on the main street after dinner one evening, we happened across a poster for a film called Paper Clips playing at the local movie theater. It was the story of an all–white, all–Christian school in rural Tennessee that had its students collect millions of paper clips as a way of learning about the specific horror that was the Holocaust, and reckoning with the broader poison of racism, anti–Semitism and xenophobia.
Somehow, the students arranged for a German railcar that was used to transport Jews to Auschwitz to be sent to Whitwell, Tennessee so that it could be transformed into a museum housing the collected paper clips, each one representing a departed soul. The sign at the entrance read: “We ask you to pause and reflect on the evil of intolerance and hatred.”
I feel shaken to my core when I think of seeing that film just a few blocks from where a terrorist took the lives of people praying. The evil of intolerance and hatred haunts us still.
Today, I will say Muslim prayers for the Jewish dead, just as the Prophet Muhammad did when he witnessed the funeral of a Jew. I will line up eleven paper clips for the eleven departed souls.
And I will take seriously the words on the sign that graced the exit at that Holocaust memorial in Whitwell, Tennessee: “What can I do to spread the message of love and tolerance these children have demonstrated with this memorial?”
Thursday 8th November 2018
All faiths, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United