The 2007 Roger E. Joseph Prize was awarded to the Whitwell Middle School Holocaust and Paper Clip Project and accepted by Linda Hooper, Whitwell Middle School Principal at Ordination Ceremonies at HUC-JIR/New York on May 6. In 1998, assistant principal and football coach David Smith and principal Linda Hooper launched a voluntary after-school 8th grade course on the Holocaust to teach tolerance within their rural southeastern Tennessee town's middle school of 425 students. Inspired by the altruism of those courageous Norwegians who had expressed solidarity with their Jewish fellow citizens after the Nazi occupation by pinning ordinary paper clips to their lapels, the Whitwell School students embarked upon a project to collect one paper clip for each of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah in order to demonstrate the magnitude of this genocide and the individuality of those who perished. Their project attracted international attention through articles and a book by German journalists researching the Holocaust, leading to an acclaimed documentary film and donations of eleven million paper clips from around the world. The students acquired a German railcar used to transport victims to the concentration camps during the Second World War to serve as a permanent Holocaust memorial and museum in their schoolyard - with each paper clip stored there a testament to the power of memory, education, and human understanding.
In accepting the Roger E. Joseph Award, Linda Hooper said, "Being a Roger E. Joseph Prize [winner] exemplifies what my community is all about. As I look at the life of Roger Joseph, I think about what he overcame and the choices that he made. At an age younger than some of you who are becoming rabbis today, he chose not to let polio take his life away. He chose to do good and be the kind of person that he thought his God wanted him to be. And you today have made a choice, to go out and serve your god and serve to other people. And for that I am truly grateful. I would just ask you today as you leave here to think about the paper clip, a tiny insignificant thing, and to think about your choices and I would ask you to join with the students, staff and community of Whitwell, Tennessee in creating a world where acceptance and respect become the rule and not the exception."
The Roger E. Joseph Prize is an international award presented annually to an individual or organization, which, by virtue of religious and moral commitment, has made a distinctive contribution to humanity.