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A project aims to inspire Richmonders to celebrate tolerance this Thanksgiving. by Lindsay Sterling

Peace Gathering

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he Virginia Holocaust Museum is bringing a national campaign to Richmond this Thanksgiving in an effort to promote tolerance and equality.

Organizers of the Enlighten America campaign want everyone to turn on a porch light or a light in a front window when they sit down for their Thanksgiving meal and leave it on through the night as an example to the world that tolerance and compassion defeat darkness.

The group also wants families and friends to sign a pledge when they gather around the table in which they promise to oppose stereotyping based on religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation or physical and mental disability.

The Jewish service organization B'nai B'rith International originated the program last year. It's based on a promise made by George Washington to the congregation of Rhode Island's Touro Synagogue in 1790. In response to the congregation's concerns about religious freedoms, Washington wrote that America "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Organizers of Enlighten America say those ideas are just as important today. "If we can teach tolerance and religious freedom, and freedom for all differences in America, that's a great reason to have thanks on Thanksgiving," says Dr. Sidney Slavin, a Richmond optometrist who volunteers at the Holocaust Museum.

Slavin learned about Enlighten America last year and thought it would be a perfect project for the Holocaust Museum.

"Can you imagine people sitting around their table eating turkey and cranberries and discussing the importance of tolerance and freedom?" Slavin asks.

Jay Ipson, director of the museum and the youngest Holocaust survivor in the area, agreed that it could be a complement to the museum's mission.

The project took on a new meaning after Sept. 11, Slavin says.

It's received the support of several other local organizations, such as the Council for America's First Freedom, Greater Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross, Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond, National Conference for Community and Justice, Virginia Council of Churches and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

The museum also has sent mailings to 2,000 Virginia schools, asking students to join in.

The Holocaust Museum plans to light up for the occasion at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Ipson says the museum will open the shutters on all three floors and illuminate every window for the night.

"We are trying to express that we need to be tolerant of each other," Ipson says. "If all people came together, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, and everyone cut their fingers and dropped the blood into a jar, you could not tell the difference."

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