‘Paper Clips’ Continues to Link Crowds

Until recently, the riveting and much-acclaimed 2004 documentary, “Paper Clips” — which chronicles the attempt by the small, rural town of Whitwell, Tenn., to educate its students about the enormous number of Jews killed in the Holocaust — could be seen mostly at special screenings and community events. After an initial exclusive release of the DVD version to Blockbuster, as of March 7, the DVD has gone into general release so everyone can finally get a copy, which is sure to broaden the film’s exposure. And there’s also the book, “Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial,” by German journalists Peter W. Schroeder and Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, who played an instrumental role in helping the film succeed.

The book and the film were the focus of a recent gathering at the Museum of Tolerance’s Peltz Theatre, which featured a screening and a Q & A session with the writers and Miramax producer Matthew Hiltzik.

“Our 94-year-old friend, Lena Gitter, found out about the ‘Paper Clips’ project on the Internet,” Schroeder-Hildebrand explained during the talk following the screening. When the journalists learned of the project, they pitched in by sending letters to their press contacts, authoring nine articles about the project for a German newspaper and subsequently writing a book. Due to their efforts, the students’ collection went from 160,000 to more than 22 million.

A spirit of collaboration marked the filming process as well.

“So many people wanted to give of themselves to this project. The beauty was in the simplicity and letting it speak for itself … it shows what people can do together,” Hiltzik said.

“It’s unbelievable how many people were involved,” Schroeder-Hildebrand added.

By the project’s end, the children just needed to find a place to house the clips, as a memorial to the victims. The journalists volunteered to locate an authentic German railway car that had transported Jews to the gas chambers, so the children could transform it into a monument of hope.

“As Germans, did you find yourselves coming up to walls of prejudice?” one audience member asked.

“We encountered some resistance,” Peter Schroeder answered. “The German newspaper we write for grumbled that we were taking too much time off.”

In their book, the authors recount other hostile reactions, among them: “Another Holocaust memorial? It’s time to forget what happened 60 years ago.” Others, however, responded with good will. Finally, the pair found car No. 011-993 and raised the funds to bring it to Whitwell.

Elana Samuels, an assistant director at the Museum of Tolerance, praised the film for its message of tolerance and its positive portrayal of educators.

“Good teaching needs motivated educators … not necessarily with all the information, but with the desire to get it.”

She said this event meant a lot to the museum because it “brings history to life … it shows the beauty of interchange, of intergenerational dialogue.”

“Showing the film in Tennessee for the first time, I was the only Jew there,” Hiltzik said. “But a lady came over to me and said she’s also an outsider — because she was from Mississippi! I went to the cattle car, and putting on my tefillin there and knowing the circumstances … you did feel the souls.”


Community Briefs

Rabin Tribute Marks 10th Anniversary of Assassination

A lively, heartfelt tribute to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin brought more than 400 people to the University of Judaism to mark the 10th year since an assassin took his life.

“I miss the man himself; I miss the man who stole all the chocolates with me from his table,” said Eitan Haber, Rabin’s former chief of staff. “I also miss his fixation on all the small details, his nervousness and his short temper.”

The Labor Party prime minister was assassinated Nov. 4, 1995, at a Tel Aviv rally by extremist Yigal Amir, who opposed the Oslo peace accords. A year earlier, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin, a Six-Day War commander.

The two-hour Nov. 29 tribute, hosted by talk show host Dennis Prager, featured speakers and songs, including the children’s choir, Tzeirey USA (Agoura), singing The Beatles tune, “Let It Be,” in Hebrew. The tribute was organized by the Tarzana-based Council of Israeli Community, The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and Temple Beth Haverim of Agoura Hills.

Haber recalled how the press statement announcing that Rabin had died during surgery was written by him on the back of a piece of paper he fished from his pocket while at the hospital. The paper’s front side was the schedule of the last week of Rabin’s life.

“I will not forget this until my very last days,” he said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch said that after the assassination, Israelis of all political stripes understood that “whatever the disagreement, whatever the argument, fulfilling the wishes of a democracy will not cost them their lives.”

Danoch described Rabin as “part of a unique generation — those who truly lived the history of Israel.”

Haber pointed out that Rabin would have preferred to talk peace with someone nonviolent, such as the “queen of Holland or the prince of Monaco.” Then he quickly added that Rabin told him peace “is made with the bitter enemies.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Cedars Hosts Conclave on Stem Cell Developments

When California voters passed a $3 billion stem cell research initiative, they not only opened the door to medical advances but also to a collaboration with scientists from Israel, which is an established leader in the field.

To seed that partnership, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center recently hosted a two-day symposium that attracted more than 300 physicians, scientists, bioethicists and entrepreneurs.

“Our goal was to … encourage collaboration between scientists and clinicians who are doing cutting-edge research,” said David Meyer, Cedars’ vice president for research and scientific affairs, who coordinated the program, along with Nissin Benvenisty of Hebrew University.

The first day of the program focused on research, drawing scientists from such institutions as Cedars-Sinai, Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and UCLA, along with counterparts at Hadassah Hospital, Hebrew University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

One presenter, Technion’s Lior Gepstein, described how he and colleagues used embryonic stem cells to produce heart muscle cells that can adapt to the structure and electrical pulse of the cardiac tissue into which it is implanted. While many hurdles remain, such technology might some day be used to produce heart pacemakers made of living tissues, rather than implanted electronic devices.

On the second day, seven Israeli biotech companies involved in developing stem cell therapies explained their work to potential investors. Southern California-Israel Chamber of Commerce helped organize that portion of the program. — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer


School Bond Measure Gets Failing Grade

I have a picture on the wall of my office. It was taken at about 4 a.m. in 1998. I’m in the picture with a group of Democratic and Republican legislators. We look tired; we’ve been up late for a number of nights. But there’s also a glint of celebration.

That was a happy and proud moment. We had just negotiated Proposition 1A, which put $9.2 billion of school bonds on the ballot. This bipartisan breakthrough opened the way for three successful state school bonds that raised $34 billion for school construction.

I’ve also supported local school bonds, and the state and local money that voters entrusted to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being used to build schools all over the city.

I don’t take this progress lightly or for granted. But building for seats is not the same as building for reform. To date, L.A. Unified has done the former but only paid lip service to the latter. And I find myself moving to an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position on the question of the school district’s bid to pass $3.985 billion in school bonds this November.

In truth, the public was promised more and has a right to expect more: that pre-K and after-school programs, as well as adult education, libraries, health-care access and recreation, would be programmed by design into each new school.

Our expectation was that the billions in bond proceeds would create safe learning centers within revitalized and healthy neighborhoods.

Instead, as it now stands, this costly investment is doomed to return little. We are losing more than half our students as dropouts, and these new schools are not poised to alter that outcome or even to dramatically improve the fate of the undereducated grads who stick it out. Our new schools must be more than just rain-free warehouses.

The school district is blowing it — squandering a historic opportunity and, in the process, perpetrating an ethical crime on the thousands of students whose future it is failing.

The competent and relentless former Navy men and real estate pros who now erect schools in Los Angeles just drive like a freight train toward the goal of building seats — without regard to the design and programming of these schools, without regard to what we know about how children learn, without regard to the relationship between educational achievement and the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which these students live.

Look at the schools about to open. Too many of them are huge — when we know that children learn more successfully in small schools. We’re told the district will do better on the next round, but we’ve heard empty promises from the school district before.

The district also earns a failing grade on joint planning. Now is the time, with schools rising all over the city, for the school district to work with the city, health agencies, nonprofits, parks departments, housing developers and community groups to build schools that are planned as the center of communities. LAUSD sees collaborative planning with community input as too time consuming and expensive.

Yes, collaboration is harder than building schools as though they’re islands walled off from a hostile sea. But thoughtful, joint planning pays off for generations to come.

One good example is in San Diego, where a collaborative planning process — which involved a school, along with other services and development — transformed blighted City Heights.

There are one or two exceptions to the L.A. malaise, including a new school in Westlake, just west of downtown, that involves collaboration with a Boys & Girls Club, the city and an affordable-housing developer.

But such joint planning stands out for being so rare. And outside entities that have tried to collaborate with the district’s bureaucracy can tell horror stories of how difficult it’s been. On the district side, there’s no real energy, interest or aptitude applied to the necessary re-imagining of schools.

I don’t speak for my friend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although I do know he shares my passion for improving the schools of Los Angeles. But as for me, I’m just tired of this same old, same old.

I’m tired of just going back to the voters and asking them to pass more money to just build more classroom seats. This bond measure represents the same old cookie-cutter: Grab the cash, pull the wool over the voters’ eyes and not learn from your experiences.

We know what we need to do. We need to make schools smaller and anchor them in neighborhoods, so that there will be more grandmothers than cops on our campuses. Chicago, New York and Providence, R.I, have shown the way.

Let’s make this bond — L.A.’s fourth since 1997 — reflect truly important educational and community values. In this bond, we must limit the enrollment at a school, absent compelling reasons. And if the school site is larger than 500, it must be divided into separate facilities with separate principals. And there must be guidelines regarding joint use, possibly including a joint-powers authority set up between the city of Los Angeles and LAUSD.

We can incorporate these principles and guidelines into the bond.

District officials can easily take action at a school board meeting before the November special election. They can mandate that bond proceeds be spent for small schools that are planned and constructed as the centers of their neighborhoods. Until such changes are made, I must oppose this school bond measure — with the greatest reluctance and a heavy heart.

I am not, however, checking out of the issue. If this school bond passes, I will continue to pressure school board members to spend wisely. But I’d rather they alter course and get it right now, so I can change my mind and support the bond.

Until then, a resounding “no” is the best way to send the school district a message that may benefit children down the road.

Attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg ran for mayor of Los Angeles this year and has served as an adviser to both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


PhD on the Flying Trapeze

You’re on the flying trapeze, gliding fearlessly through the air. Keeping you aloft, 30 feet above gaping spectators, are your trusted teammates. Today, your welfare is in their hands. Tomorrow they’ll go back to being — the guys from accounting?

On that premise, Edy Greenblatt has built a new Southern California-based business.

Greenblatt is best known in Los Angeles as an energetic, knowledgeable folk dance teacher. But in search of a more stable career, she studied organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, in a joint doctoral program involving Harvard’s graduate schools of psychology and sociology. Her doctoral research on stress in the workplace took her to a string of Club Meds — the better to investigate worker burnout.

At a Club Med in Florida, she first caught glimpse of a flying trapeze. It was love at first flight.

The 30-something Greenblatt saw “the most powerful tool for professional and personal transformation.” Now, as president and “chief flying officer” of five-year-old Execu-Care Coaching and Consulting, she helps corporate managers hone communication and leadership skills by teaching them the knee-hang and the back-flip dismount from a bar swinging 30 feet off the ground.

It’s not as terrifying as it sounds. Everyone wears a safety harness, and there’s a net below. Greenblatt’s staffers, who do the actual catching each time you fly through the air, have logged 10,000 hours of training and coaching time.

The trapeze requires intense collaboration, so the corporate execs build trust and self-confidence, which makes them more effective at work. That’s the theory anyway.

At the very least, the experience fulfills many a childhood circus fantasy, and it’s a deductible business expense.

The Chicago-born Greenblatt originally came to Los Angeles at 17 to pursue her passion for international folkdance, studying dance ethnology at UCLA and teaching dance all over the place. But eventually it dawned on her that leading novices through “Dodi Li” was no way for a nice Jewish girl to make a living. She also recognized that, as a dance leader, “I was spending my life fixing the damage caused by work and life.” Rather than struggling to restore people’s psyches through dance, she vowed to help transform the workplace that saps so many souls.

That led her to Harvard for her academic credentials and eventually to the trapeze.

In a way, she’s come full circle. In high school, she sold peanuts and Cokes when Ringling Bros. came to town. When they moved on, she was sorely tempted to go with them. Now she uses circus tricks to teach the desk-bound how to soar.

For information, call (626) 644-7745 or edy@execu-care.com.


‘Dance’s’ Conflict Is Center Stage

In Mirra Bank’s unflinching documentary, “The Last Dance,” legendary children’s author Maurice Sendak passionately describes the Holocaust piece he hopes to create with members of the acrobatically virtuostic Pilobolus Dance Company. He envisions a train station, a menacing figure and refugees. He imagines a double bill with the children’s opera, “Brundibar,” once performed at Terezin. “It’s [my] loyalty to all the dead,” said the 75-year-old author (“Where the Wild Things Are”), who lost numerous relatives in the Holocaust.

During such conversations, Pilobolus’ three artistic directors squirm uncomfortably. “I just don’t find waiting around at the train station … very interesting,” the troupe’s Jonathan Wolken said. The directors suggest the story shouldn’t be concrete but should evolve through improvisation.

“But I’m the storyteller,” Sendak retorts at one point.

The tense moment is one of many Bank captured after Pilobolus members invited Sendak and his partner, writer-director Arthur Yorinks, to become their first outside collaborators in 1998.

Speaking by telephone from his Connecticut home, the author and set designer told The Journal he agreed, in part, because he loves collaborating with dancers and Pilobolus’ work isn’t unlike his own. “Their playful, almost shameful use of the body reminds me of babies and children,” he said.

But as the partnership got underway, Bank captured the stormy, often hilarious clash of egos, as well as the vibrant creative process. In the film, the collaborators argue about the piece’s title, whether it should specifically reference the Holocaust or involve nudity. “Those who went to the ovens were stripped naked,” Sendak said of the nudity.

“It’s a kind of stupid striptease,” Wolken said.

The edgy, cinema verite style film joins a budding subgenre of movies, including Matthew David’s 1998 documentary, “Dancemaker,” that explore the sometimes prickly choreographic process.

Looking back on the Pilobolus partnership — captured by Bank’s handheld digital camera — Sendak said he was “baffled by their tenacity, and I’m sure they’d say the same of me.

“It was unpleasant,” he said of the tension. “I don’t like getting angry or in an emotional condition, because the Holocaust subject was emotional enough.”

Wolken, who also lost family in the camps, sees things differently. “Flying sparks can vulcanize a project,” he told The Journal. “And Maurice loves a good argument. It energizes him. If he doesn’t have one, he manufactures it.”

“The Last Dance” began when Bank, an acclaimed PBS filmmaker whose work often involves Jewish themes, attended a Pilobolus performance in summer 1998. “I asked [artistic director] Michael Tracy what the company was doing next, and he said it would be a dark, Eastern European, possibly Holocaust-driven Grimm’s fairy tale with Maurice Sendak,” she recalled. “I said, ‘My God, that sounds like a film.'”

Over the next eight months, Bank videotaped 125 hours of the collaboration, which sometimes seemed destined for failure. After one particularly turbulent session, Sendak dejectedly told Bank he felt “bumped off the rails.” At 11 p.m. that night, he called her and threatened to quit.

“I think Maurice thought he could control the process more than he did,” Bank said. Of why Wolken became his primary antagonist, she said, “within Pilobolus, his role is often that of provocateur.”

The filmmaker found the discord “gut wrenching. I felt deeply connected to everyone involved,” she said. “I also had a great deal personally invested in the project, and there were a number of times I thought it might fall apart.”

Instead, the tense partnership eventually yielded a powerful dance piece, “A Selection,” which received rave reviews in New York in 1999.

Bank’s documentary also received rave reviews, not just from the critics but from the protagonists involved. “However, I cringed the first two or three times I saw it,” Sendak said. “I didn’t like to see myself carrying on like that. I became the big … noisy Jew and Jonathan became the uptight, ‘No, I don’t want to go there,’ Jew.”

Wolken, for his part, called “The Last Dance” “a great film. But it presents just a narrow slice of what went on. In a good movie, you have to have conflict, and Mirra searched for it. As a good filmmaker, she at times manufactured it.”

Both Sendak and Wolken told The Journal they are old friends, which isn’t depicted in the movie. They said they’d collaborate again in an instant. But Bank isn’t so sure. “Everyone was proud of the dance piece they created, but they also may never work again,” she said. “Which is why I called the film, ‘The Last Dance.'”

The film opens April 24 at the American Cinemateque in Los Angeles, coinciding with Pilobolus’ performance of different works at the Ahmanson May 2 and 4. Bank and Pilobolus members will appear for a discussion after the “Last Dance” screening at noon on May 3. For information, call (323) 461-2020. n