Gadi Lefkowitz and Yonah Heller spent almost two hours counting 60,000 canceled stamps before they gave up -- and that was just a small fraction of what the young men and other students at Yeshivat Rambam in Northwest Baltimore hope to collect.
"You can't really imagine 6 million," said Lefkowitz, a eighth-grade pupil at the Orthodox Jewish school at 6300 Park Heights Ave.
Lefkowitz and Heller, both 13, and their classmates have been working to collect 6 million canceled stamps to represent the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. They've collected slightly more than 3 million, with donations coming from as far as Switzerland, Israel and France, and every state in this country.
"For a while, I was sending thank-you notes to everyone, but then it got too unwieldy," said teacher Gail Zlotowitz, who organized the project in September 1998. She has kept a scrapbook of the most touching notes that accompany the stamps, some from Holocaust survivors.
She said she hopes to reach the 6 million mark by the end of the next school year, when Yeshivat Rambam graduates its first class. The school will put the collection on permanent display in glass cases as part of the school's effort to remember the Holocaust and its role in Jewish culture.
The stamps are stored in boxes in a closet across the hall from Zlotowitz's classroom.
Lefkowitz, Heller and the rest of their class adopted the project as their own, but it's been a schoolwide effort for the 276 students from kindergarten to 11th grade in the 9-year-old school.
Zlotowitz said she decided to collect stamps because they are inexpensive and everyone uses them.
When the students realized how long it took to count the first batch, they resorted to weighing the stamps to tally them.
"There are not enough hours in a year to count them," Zlotowitz said. "And that's the point -- to see what an overwhelming number it is."
Word of the project started to spread within the school, to parents and friends, and then to the outside world.
Lefkowitz and Heller's class initially put large manila envelopes in each classroom to collect stamps. Soon students were bringing in more than the envelopes could handle. A parent noticed the effort and posted an advertisement on an Internet auction site, guaranteeing postage out of her pocket if people sent the school stamps. When a stamp collector magazine mentioned the project in a column, boxes started pouring in.
Most of the stamps are from outside the Jewish community, Zlotowitz said. "They wanted to feel that by joining this project, they were helping to ensure that another such incident would never happen. For all that support to come from somebody who wasn't part of the Holocaust, it's just a miracle."