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Spotlight on The ISJL's Other Departments... Book Month Style!
By Leah Wittenberg, Lawrence Magdovitz Education Fellow
The ISJL’s other departments are ripe with ideas about literacy, great authors, and new books! Check out these snapshots from some of our incredible departments.
Community Engagement Department:
This department has a plethora of literacy initiatives that are ready to be exported to a synagogue near you! I talked to Dave Miller, head of the department, for some great insights about books and literacy programs. Here are his tips:
For the annual Literacy Achievement Bonanza (LAB), elementary school students participate in fun, literacy-based activities during Spring Break. In order to provide free books to all students, the Community Engagement Department forges partnerships. Examples of great partners include your local library system, Barnes and Noble or other book stores, Scholastic books, and tutoring programs like Sylvan Learning. These symbiotic relationships don’t have to happen just in Jackson; you can easily implement this in your congregation. And this is even more crucial in lower income communities. One study found that in middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of books to children is 13 books per child; while in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is one book for every 300 kids. The bottom line is, if you give children books, you can change lives.
Another program that is relatively easy to implement in your congregation is “Our Reading Family.” In this weekly program, paid literacy interventionists and volunteers assist in literacy-based activities for elementary school students and their parents. In Jackson, this happens at a public library, but it just as easily could happen at your congregation! All you need is the space and participants, and the Community Engagement Department will help provide the budget for books. The price structure can even be modified! Contact Dave Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more info.
Cultural Programming Department:
There are some great authors who are available to come to your congregation to celebrate Jewish Book Month! Contact Alachua Nazarenko (email@example.com) for more information about these and other presenters.
1. Dr. Joel Hoffman - The Bible Doesn’t Say That: 40 Biblical Mistranslations, Misconceptions, and Other Misunderstandings.
Acclaimed translator and biblical scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman is eager to talk to your community members about his book. In The Bible Doesn’t Say That, Hoffman uncovers common misunderstandings, mistranslations, and misconceptions about the Torah. If you’ve ever wondered what the Torah really says about keeping kosher, violence, marriage, and more, then Dr. Hoffman’s presentation is for your community.
2. Noa Baum - A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman's Quest For Peace
Noa Baum’s newest book is sure to pique your community’s interest. A Land Twice Promised is also Baum’s storytelling performance, which helps the book come to life. Baum tells the story of herself, an Israeli Jew, and Jumana, a Palestinian Christian—and the paths that led them to hear each other’s stories with compassion and empathy. “When we are telling each other our personal stories,” she writes, “it actually expands our ability to accept things that were contradictory to everything we previously held as Truth.”
3. Annabelle Gurwitch - Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To
In her new book, Annabelle Gurwitch asks the crucial question of who and what makes a family in our modern society? Is it our blood relations, the people we work with, the people we pray with, or our pets? Gurwitch’s book is a funny and touching look at her Southern and Jewish roots. As the original hostess of TBS's Dinner and a Movie, Gurwitch is a comedian, actress, and author who is sure to engage your community members.
Heritage and Interpretation Department:
Nora Katz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the newest addition to the ISJL staff, and her book suggestions for learners of all ages will get you excited for Jewish Book Month!
Her favorite book by far is Museum Legs by Amy Whitaker which is a series of essays by a museum consultant. This book is sure to get even the most skeptical museum-goers to laugh out loud.
The Presence of the Past is an anthology of public history in contemporary American life. Roy Rosenzweig and David Theien asked 1,500 Americans about their connection to the past and how it influences their daily lives and hopes for the future. Their findings will engage and surprise you.
As Nora says, the basis of The Past is a Foreign Country by David Lowenthal is that “everything we do is about nostalgia.” This cross-genre book delves into the arts, the humanities and the social sciences to explore how much of the past is still with us today.
We can’t forget about our children, of course. Here are Nora’s top two suggestions for books to get kids thinking about heritage and interpretation:
What Do You Do with an Idea? is a picture book by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. It holds an inspiring message for younger learners and adults about how our ideas can transform both ourselves and those around us.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. This classic novel has everything you could want: mystery, Michelangelo, and museums!
 (Neuman, Susan B. and David K. Dickinson, ed. Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2. New York, NY: 2006)