September! The High Holidays and the Festival Holidays! Back to school! It’s hard to believe that so much happens—or begins—in just one month.
As we approach a new Jewish year, 5771, I am thinking about the role of books, and by extension literacy, in our lives. For many if not most of us, being fortunate to have been born and raised in families and communities that value education, basic skills in reading and writing are something we pretty much take for granted. On the other hand, the JCC Youth Literacy Corps, one of our teen programs, brings kids from all over the city to schools and community centers to work with young children on these skills. Some have never been read to before entering school; some have never owned a book before. This reminds me that literacy is something we must cultivate in ourselves and each other.
The JCC’s commitment to this important Jewish value takes many additional forms. The PJ Library®, for which we are the Greater Boston administrator, delivers free books on Jewish themes to the homes of children in 96 communities on a subscription basis. Through these books, caregivers and children have the opportunity to explore both the process of reading and a host of Jewish themes.
Adults and children have multiple opportunities to exercise their love of books, literature and ideas in enrichment classes and at the Boston Jewish Book Fair, a year-long affair that this year includes special events, a Children’s Literature Series, book clubs, a Distinguished Author Series, a workshop on publishing-on-demand, and more. A recent session on Jewish poetry brought 45 men and women to the JCC on a Tuesday night to appreciate this art form together!
And, of course, any visit to a JCC Early Learning Centers drives home the intensity and integrity of the process. Preschool education is mainly about discovery and self-expression. But many children are eager to begin to read and write, and if so they are encouraged. What watershed moments in a child’s life! Don’t we all have memories of “sounding out” words on a printed page? Don’t we all have in our possession those first awkward attempts at writing, our own or our children’s, boring through the thick lined paper?
Something about this moves me deeply. Having enjoyed a year of delving into new ideas and strategies for our organization, I am excited to be reading, writing and thinking in different ways. The more that I exercise these skills, the more I want to. And the more that I do, the more thankful I feel for the ability and the opportunity.
Our Youth Literacy Corps volunteers wear awesome tie-dyed wristbands inscribed “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” These words, from Frederick Douglass, reflect my wish for you on this Erev: that you will have every chance to enjoy the privilege of self-exploration, and of sharing your experiences and ideas with others. And, in doing so, that you will experience a sense of freedom and joy.
Shanah Tovah U’metukah: a happy and sweet new year.
Mark Sokoll, Preident/CEO