Every child uses crayons. It’s a universal tool," said Flora Frank. "When you think of crayons, you think of kids, and I wanted to focus on kids."
Frank, a retired teacher, is spearheading an effort, under the auspices of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, to collect 1.5 million new and unused crayons in memory of the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust. Some of the crayons will be donated to children’s facilities, others will be used to construct a memorial.
Frank pointed out that while the Nazis kept records of people they killed, in modern killing sites like Darfur there are no records, "so we don’t know how many children have been killed." She is hopeful the crayon project will raise awareness about these undocumented children as well. The group has created a flier urging people to "remember the children, one crayon at a time."
A longtime Fair Lawn resident, Frank has created other projects for the synagogue’s Hebrew school, "but this is the largest," she said. "We’re getting into something really big. It’s a monumental thing to do," she noted. "It’s hard to imagine what one and a half million will look like."
Inspired by "Paper Clips" a ‘004 documentary depicting the efforts of middle school students in Tennessee to collect 6 million paper clips in an effort to visualize the number of Jews killed in the Shoah Frank brought the idea of a crayon collection to the synagogue’s education committee, which adopted the project in November.
So far, working primarily through the Hebrew school, the crayon collection team two education committee members as well as herself and a retired librarian, all current or former educators has collected three boxes of crayons, each bearing some 6,000 crayons. The filled boxes are in the president’s office at the synagogue, "but after this we’ll need to put them in a storage room," she said. "We’ll need ’50 boxes to complete the project," she added. Frank said that when she first brought the concept to the synagogue’s education committee, "they thought it was too big a project, but they liked the idea."
"We need a larger committee and more volunteers to count, record, pick up, and transport donations," said Frank. "We also need artists to make a memorial out of the crayons."
According to Frank, the crayon project is a "two-fold mitzvah." Not only will it keep alive the memory of the children who died in the Shoah, but "we will donate crayons to schools, day-care centers, and hospitals. Our children love the idea of giving to kids who don’t have."
While donation sites have not been finalized, Frank said the group intends to donate crayons to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Supplies for Success program; to the school systems in Paterson, Newark, and Hackensack; and to pediatric units in hospitals. While she has approached other synagogues about joining the effort, "they want to do their own thing," she said. "I try to stress that it’s a community project and we’ll acknowledge supporters," but she has not yet been successful.
Frank said that while she would like to begin donating crayons soon so that the Hebrew school children can begin to see the fruits of their labor, "ideally we would collect the target amount and then start donating." But, she said, if donations are slow, "we’ll be flexible."
Frank noted that she plans to speak with communal groups like the National Council of Jewish Women to seek their support. A recent appeal at Caf? Europa, a group for Holocaust survivors coordinated by the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, brought in money that was used to buy crayons.
"Those who can’t get out to shop can still donate money and we will buy new crayons," she said.
Stressing her desire to reach youngsters of all ages, perhaps through Kadima and USY youth groups, Frank, who has visited classes at the synagogue’s Hebrew school to speak about the project, said, "you need to be creative to get children involved." While the project is off to a good start, "there’s just so much children in grades one to seven can do."
For more information about the project, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Crayons can be dropped off at the Center, 10-10 Norma Ave. If donations are large, pick-up can be arranged.