What Klaus Teaches Us About the Other

I spent some time over the holidays watching the movie Klaus with my daughter. The main character, Jesper, is the new mailman in the city of Smeerensburg, a northern town marked by a long-standing feud between the Krum and Ellingboe clans. Jesper is tasked with collecting thousands of letters in Smeerensburg, but he has a problem. The dispute between the clans means that no one sends mail, because no one has anything to say to anyone else. Running from a town brawl of his first day, Jesper enters what appears to be a fish market only to discover that the fishmonger is the town schoolteacher, Miss Elba. She had to start selling fish because no one in Smeerensburg sends their children to school, lest their children mix with their sworn enemies.


This attitude—refusing to mingle with “the other”—feels real in the movie because we can cite so many examples from our own lives. At Boston Partners for Peace, we highlight Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who insist on overcoming the barriers to building a shared society. But the issues that these peacebuilders work on are relevant to us in America as well. Community policing, political representation for minorities, and addressing education gaps are relevant conversations around the world, with Israel and Boston being no exception.


In many cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the existing gaps between the haves and the have-nots. It has always been difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to build connections with each other. Living with strict limitations on physical movement and repeated lockdowns makes this task almost impossible. Students from different backgrounds, who were previously able to meet every day, are suddenly isolated from each other. What is happening to these children, both educationally and socially? How will they respond when things return to something like normal? How can we treat the pandemic as an opportunity to address existing gaps in our respective societies?


In the fight for equity, we have much to learn from each other. That is why, next month, Boston Partners for Peace will be hosting a two-part series on equity where practitioners and policy makers will be addressing these questions directly. Beginning the first week of February, we will be talking about equity in education. A few weeks later, we will be discussing equity and government representation. Both are timely conversations that I hope will make us better citizens and community members now and in the coming months as our lives start to return to something like the way they were.


In the movie, Jesper gets children to mail letters to Klaus in exchange for toys. In doing so, he unites the youth of Smeerensburg around a common purpose, an event which has ripple effects throughout the town. This is the work being done by so many of our partners in Israel, especially those working with students and young people. I hope you will join us in the coming weeks to continue these vital conversations.


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