Tag Archives: GBJCL

4,700 Books, 100 Classrooms

This week, a message from Director of Service Initiatives Emily Reichman:

As Jews, we are “the people of the book.” During these High Holy Days, we pray to be written in the Book of Life. Books—education—are central to our identity, and as immigrants to this country, we experienced the power of reading in unlocking opportunities for generations in our new homeland.

New research confirms what we as Jews have always known instinctively, that “the best predictor of future education achievement and life success is reading ability.”* But here in Massachusetts, 43% of third-graders cannot read at grade level.** One big obstacle is access to books.

In families where making ends meet is a challenge, buying books can be an unattainable luxury. In addition, many Boston Public School libraries have closed due to a lack of resources to staff and maintain them.

This summer, we at JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) approached Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with an idea to address this problem. We were grateful that they had donated 850 books to us in the past, but we wondered if they might consider a more substantive donation, one that would enable our young friends to start their own home libraries. They responded enthusiastically, increasing their donation this year to 4,700 books, at a value of over $85,000. These books will be delivered into the hands of thousands of excited students, teachers, and volunteers all over Greater Boston.

As two FedEx delivery drivers unloaded boxes upon boxes holding these 4,700 books into GBJCL volunteer Alison Wintman's home, they asked her where the seven pallets of books were headed. On hearing her answer, the drivers responded: “That makes it all worth it; this is awesome, just awesome.”

We are distributing these books to 25 of our partner schools and nearly 100 different classrooms in an intergenerational community undertaking. Alison, who is a dedicated volunteer at the Bates Elementary School in Roslindale, served as the distribution center for the books. Aviva Bernstein, a bat mitzvah student from Temple Beth Shalom in Needham worked with her family to label the books. GBJCL interns oversaw the distribution, recruiting their college friends to sort the books and schlep them to the schools.

As excited as our volunteers were to help their students build their home libraries, the main focus of their work is the tutoring they lovingly provide, every week through the course of the school year. And for some volunteers, one school year has turned into twenty! One such volunteer is Nancy Krieger, from the Temple Beth Shalom team.

“Over these 20 years, the one constant is: We are all energized and inspired by our ‘relationships,’“ she said. “The love and caring the children express when they see us never ceases to endear me. To the students, I am known as ‘Dancy Nancy,‘ and it is incredibly gratifying to have the students greet me with a smile, a hug, and a deep breath as they set off on their next task. Their levels of academic achievement increase every month. Having the opportunity to work with these children is a privilege and a delight.”

Florence Scott-Hiser, a teacher at the Ohrenberger school where the Temple Emanuel team volunteers, notes: “I have seen the impact [GBJCL volunteers] have made, not only in my classroom but throughout the building. There is nothing more joyful than a child connecting with an adult and enjoying learning. Parents here are often working two jobs, so reading with their children is just an impossibility. As a parent and an educator, I know reading with your child is one of the most important ways a child grows."

We are continuing the work we began in response to President Clinton’s call in 1997 for a million volunteers to address literacy on a national level. We created GBJCL as the pilot program for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, founded by the legendary social justice hero Leonard Fein, z”l. By connecting Jewish volunteers to high-needs public schools, their expertise is leveraged to support both students and teachers. Now, over 20 years later, GBJCL volunteers have tutored over 10,000 students.

Our volunteers are currently gearing up to return to their partner schools throughout Greater Boston, to share their love of reading with another generation of new friends. Join this effort by getting involved in GBJCL tutoring services or library projects by emailing Rebecca Shimshak, Director of GBJCL, or visiting the GBJCL webpage to learn more.

Shabbat Shalom,

Emily

*Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jerry-diakiw/reading-and-life-success_b_16404148.html

**Source: https://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/2017/03/28/statistics-show-third-grade-reading-levels-often-not-where-they-should-be/

Penny & Anna: 8 Years of Reading Together

A GBJCL volunteer & her tutee

During this 75th year of JCRC, we're taking time to mark important milestones. The end of the school year is a very special moment that happens annually, when students and teachers reflect on all the learning that has taken place over the year and take pride in their accomplishments. Our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) marks this moment together with our 29 school partners through end-of-year celebrations where students have an opportunity to say goodbye to their tutors. This year, GBJCL was able to present over 800 books with accompanying newly created literacy kits to students at their school celebrations, so that they can feel empowered and motivated to continue reading and learning in fun ways over the summer.

Every tutor-student relationship is unique. There are some students who are quiet and reserved and can take weeks or months of one-on-one attention to come out of their shells. Some students open up right away. Sometimes these bonds are so strong by the end of the year that the tutor becomes a core part of the student’s growth, and the student now has another adult role model who provides undivided attention and strengthens their self-esteem. And sometimes, that volunteer will be able to work with the same student as they move on in school. In the special case of one volunteer, Penny Schwartz, she was able to work with her student Anna for eight consecutive years.  

Penny has dedicated the past decade to one student, Anna, at the Healey School in Somerville that partners with Temple B'nai Brith of the same town. Penny was smitten right away with this social first grader. Anna was a joy, with an eagerness to learn and a desire to become a better reader.

When the end of the year came, the pair wanted to continue. Penny recalled, “Through the amazing cooperation of Anna's teachers—and the ok from Anna's family—we were able to continue our nearly weekly get-togethers through Anna's eighth grade graduation.” Throughout the eight years together, Anna’s teachers recognized the importance of the relationship. They could see how Anna continued to grow and learn with Penny’s support, and always made sure the two had time for one another.

Penny describes seeing Anna grow up through elementary and middle school. Penny recalled in 7th grade, when Anna beamed with pride when she received the school’s coveted Student of the Quarter award. And later that year, she was able to travel on the class trip to Washington, D.C. and exuberantly showed Penny photos of their visit to the National Museum of African American History and described in detail a painting she fell in love with.

The work continues as the relationship grows annually. Before Anna started high school, Penny encouraged two teens from Temple B’nai Brith (TBB) to meet with Anna and share “insider tips” for a freshman. Penny says, “But what really stands out for me is a mirror of what stands out for Anna: weekly, Anna has given up time to meet with me—a middle-aged white woman from another background— to share her thoughts and what she's up to in school, her ups and downs, to accept guidance—giving up rare chances to hang out with her friends. No question, I am still smitten.”

Penny feels she has been changed by the experience: “My life is made richer by getting to know Anna and her family—seeing her accomplishments, admiring her aspirations, and learning about the issues of the day in my own community—and a window into what it means to grow up today in an immigrant family. This extended relationship between GBJCL and TBB has been a constant reminder of the extraordinary devotion of school faculty and staff to support their students in and out of the classroom.”

As Penny prepares to say goodbye for the summer, however, it is a different form of goodbye, one that we are very accustomed to in Jewish tradition–a l’hitraot or “see you next time.” The pair plans to reconnect after the summer. And in the meantime, the relationship between Penny and Anna continues to grow and evolve. Penny hopes to be able to tutor Anna’s younger brother, staying connected to the family. And as Anna enters this next chapter of life, she knows she has many people who will be cheering her on as she pursues her goals.

I hope you will join us as we look to the next 75 years of JCRC, where we continue to mobilize over 200 volunteers annually to help elementary school children in underserved communities discover the joy of reading. To learn more about how you can get involved as a volunteer or support this work, visit the GBJCL website. It doesn’t require an eight year commitment. But we do need you to take the first step.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Beyond Books: Partnerships in Literacy and Learning

The route between High Street and Beacon Hill is a familiar and well-worn one for us at JCRC, as so much of our advocacy on this community’s priorities is realized through our close and enduring relationships with our legislative partners. But Boston City Hall is a much less frequent destination, since our dealings with the City of Boston are more limited. So, we were particularly proud to have our contribution to the City recognized last Wednesday when the Boston City Council honored our longtime volunteers from our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition (GBJCL) for Literacy program for their dedication to the schoolchildren of Boston.

The event was a proud display of the strong partnership that our program has enjoyed with the City of Boston for 22 years: connecting Jewish volunteers deeply committed to the success of young students, to Boston Public Schools, where their expertise can be leveraged to support both students and teachers.

The six volunteers representing GBJCL (with a total combined 100 years of dedicated service!) spoke of the profound bonds that they had formed with their students and about the impact of these relationships on their own lives. Florence Coslow, a volunteer with GBJCL throughout the program’s 22 years, proudly pulled out a stack of thank you cards she has received from her students over her decades of service.

GBJCL Volunteer Florence Coslow (center), with her sister (R) and Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George (L)

I was struck by one remarkable story, shared by GBJCL volunteer Kim Meyers. A member of Temple Beth Zion (TBZ) in Brookline, Kim volunteers with her congregation’s tutoring team at The Winship School in Brighton. For 19 of their 20 years, she has been TBZ’s team leader, organizing volunteer schedules with the school and acting as the liaison between the team of volunteers and school administration.

When GBJCL first initiated the partnership between Winship and TBZ, a small collection of books in a basement room at Winship served as the school's library. These books disappeared when the school was renovated, and the Winship school was left without any library at all.

When a new principal came to the school a couple of years later, Kim met with her to tell her about GBJCL and the one-to-one tutoring that volunteers were providing. She seized on this meeting as an opportunity to present the principal with a challenge:

"What this school needs is a library. How can you promote literacy without a library? If you get a librarian, we will build a library for you."  

The principal took Kim up on her offer. Within the year, she had secured the funding to hire a new librarian. Volunteers at TBZ started a book drive and collected a thousand gently-used books. When the books were delivered to the school, Kim had the chance to meet with the newly hired librarian, who presented her with a wish list of books that she had strategically selected for the new library. Kim brought this list back to the synagogue with a new challenge. Could TBZ provide the school with even more new books?

A bar mitzvah student asked for donations of new books from this list, collecting hundreds of brand new books as well as bookshelves. Rabbis at TBZ organized a mitzvah day and over 20 people showed up at the Winship School on a Sunday to build the bookshelves and then, proceeded to cover, label, catalog, and shelve the books.

GBJCL volunteers and the TBZ synagogue community built a brand-new library.

Years later, the library is still thriving and the partnership is still going strong. The TBZ team has continued to donate books to this library. Several bar/bat mitzvah students have collected books for the library as their service projects. In relaying this story, Kim said, “We feel it is important to foster literacy in all the students, not just the ones we tutor.” 

As with so many of our GBJCL tutoring teams, the deep bond formed from one-on-one tutoring blossomed into an entire Jewish community pursuing a shared dream with a neighboring community. We see this again and again as our GBJCL volunteers cultivate relationships throughout Boston, which evolve from supporting individual students to identifying a variety of creative ways to build rich learning environments.

You can be part of creating and strengthening these relationships by getting involved in GBJCL tutoring services or library projects. Please email Rebecca Shimshak, Director of GBJCL, to find out more information.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

Our Literacy Heroes: Celebrating 20 Years

All year long, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy. We’ve hosted birthday parties at nine public schools, and last spring, held our own grand celebration honoring tutor Mark Friedman (pictured with his tutee, Adam), an extraordinary leader in both GBJCL and JCRC. Last night, we wrapped up the festivities by honoring those at the heart of the program, our volunteers.

Joined by MA Rep. Denise Garlick (Needham, top right photo) and noted author Susan E. Goodman (bottom left photo), we were thrilled to welcome 85 of our literacy volunteers and school partners. Since the inception of the program, GBJCL volunteers have distinguished themselves as real literacy heroes. Every week of the school year – and in some cases, for the full 20 years of the program’s existence – these volunteers show up with teams from their synagogues or workplaces at public schools throughout Greater Boston, to help kids develop tools for success.

Among those we honored was Cindy Lutch, a team leader from Temple Israel, Natick, serving at the Hemenway School in Framingham (left photo, on right, with Pam Weil, a GBJCL team leader from Temple Emanuel, Newton). During her decade of service, Cindy has had the opportunity to work with dozens of students and partnered with multiple teachers to develop a nurturing learning environment. Among those she tutored, one young man in particular stood out. After spending many weeks together, she noticed he was having trouble reading his school work. She brought this to the attention of his teacher, and together, they discovered that the student needed glasses. After he got glasses, he sometimes needed help remembering to bring them to school. Cindy would remind him each week, supporting the student to become a better reader over the year. Cindy’s special relationship with this student and his teacher helped him to grow and thrive.

After years of tutoring, Cindy developed a model for providing closure to her students at the end of the year. Cindy takes a photo of the child and they each take a copy home. GBJCL values closure rituals between student and tutor so they can reflect on their accomplishments and express their feelings about the transition. Cindy’s innovation has now been integrated as a best practice that GBJCL recommends to all tutors. Cindy’s enduring her commitment led her to choose her successor carefully and since then, the Temple Israel team has expanded and become even more robust.

We thank Cindy for her leadership and her continued partnership with JCRC as the program grows. Her commitment to making literacy accessible to students is an inspiration to all of us and exemplifies the connection between Jewish communities and public schools that the founders of GBJCL, including Leonard Fein, envisioned.

As one of those founders, Hans Strauch (see photo), said last night: “GBJCL mobilizes the Jewish community to volunteer and help elementary school children discover the joy of reading and meet their learning goals. To see it flourish and grow is truly amazing and gratifying. GBJCL volunteers are making a tremendous positive difference every day in the life and welfare of the communities it serves. That is why we continue to support this vital program every year.”

Over the past 20 years, GBCJL has impacted nearly 10,000 students and our tutors have read over 36,000 books with these students in our public schools. This is a value of over $200,000 in volunteer hours. More than ever, it is important to continue championing our local schools, supporting the development of young people, and paving the way for them to access the opportunities our country has to offer. With the commitment of our exceptional volunteers and the support of our community, we can only imagine what we’ll be able to achieve in the next 20 years! (Volunteer pictured here at the event with a "We 'heart' our volunteers" bag filled with donated books to bring to her tutees.)

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Back to School with GBJCL | A Message from Our Literacy Program Director

In the spirit of back-to-school, this week's message is from Rebecca Shimshak, the Director of our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy program.

As summer ends and a new year of learning begins, school staff throughout Greater Boston are working feverishly to prepare for their students’ arrival. Here at JCRC, our nearly 300 Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) volunteers are also gearing up to return to their partner schools. To mark this “back-to-school” moment, I’d like to share a glimpse inside one of our 25 GBJCL schools, The Arnone Community School of Brockton, a part of our program for nearly a decade, through their partnership with an incredible team of volunteers from Temples Beth Emunah and Chayai Shalom of Easton.

The Arnone’s Principal Colleen Proudler (left) was recently featured at our annual JCRC Celebrates fundraiser, where we celebrated GBJCL’s 20th anniversary and honored the work of our partners. In Principal Proudler’s remarks, she revealed compelling insights about her school, the realities of her students’ lives, and the impact of our program on her community. A large urban school, the Arnone’s students face daunting challenges: 65% are economically disadvantaged, 92% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 75% are high-needs, and more than 3% of these students are dealing with homelessness.

Principals like Proudler understand that a quality education requires depth of relationships in addition to skill building. As she told us,

… Literacy skills are a key component to a successful future and, all too frequently, these high-risk students lag well behind their peers. I could speak to you for hours about the research that demonstrates the need for explicit vocabulary instruction or the number of minutes a child should spend reading each day to become fluent. But nothing sparks a love of reading in a child better than sharing a book with a caring adult. The [GBJCL] tutors working at Arnone nurture that love of reading each and every day.

Remarkably, Principal Proudler takes the time to get to know each of the GBJCL tutors personally. She observed a particularly telling interaction between one tutor and his student.

Seymour Newberger was a ninety-one-year-old retired engineer who tutored at the Arnone for several years. Typically tutors work one or two hours a week, but Mr. Newberger worked all day, every day… I would frequently find him building bridges with the third graders in a classroom or working with small groups of fifth graders in the science lab.

One day, I observed a fifth-grade girl arguing with him... She walked away from him in a huff and as I was walking over to intervene, he called over his shoulder, “…Fine, leave. But your answer is still wrong!” The girl stopped dead in her tracks. She turned around, marched back over to the table, and sat right down. He calmly picked up a pencil and began to reteach the problem. After she left, I asked him how he knew she would come back. He told me she was a very good mathematician, but made careless errors and got angry when they were pointed out to her. He also knew that her ego would never let her walk away from a problem without the correct answer.

That student has since graduated from the Arnone, but I am certain that she will never forget how Mr. Newberger pushed her to never settle for anything less than her best effort. Mr. Newberger passed away last year and he is sorely missed at the Arnone. His spirit of service, dedication, and commitment embody the essence of GBJCL and what makes it so special to the Arnone.

Today, volunteer support is even more critical to schools like the Arnone. Facing a $10 million school budget deficit and the prospect of classes as large as 30 students, essential services for students in Brockton are in serious jeopardy. As she struggles to respond to this crisis, Principal Proudler expressed her relief that through GBJCL, she can count on her students to continue benefiting from small group instruction and personalized attention.

 
Students at the Arnone School celebrating 20 years of GBJCL (click to enlarge)

We are privileged to support schools like the Arnone, where committed volunteers like Mr. Newberger have real impact as they help students carve out their path in life. If you are interested in joining our cadre of GBJCL volunteers, registration is now open for the 2017-2018 school year for either tutoring weekly or time-limited special projects. No educational background is needed, just a desire to help and time to serve.

I look forward to celebrating another successful year together with GBJCL and all of our partners.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rebecca Shimshak,
Director, Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy

Because All Children are Our Responsibility 

As we celebrate the twentieth year of the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy, we also celebrate the values that inspire our work. Values such as:

Tikvah – creating hope, including for youth and their future.

Tzelem Elohim – believing that all our children are created equally in the divine image, and;

Areyvut – our sense of mutual responsibility, including to all our neighbors’ children.

These values have inspired us to connect volunteer tutors to kids, and they inspire all the work that we at JCRC are proud to do every day.

They inform the three abiding imperatives that drive our commitment to the relationship building, partnerships and advocacy that define community relations work:

  1. We believe in the promise of America, in the hope and potential of our nation, despite our challenges, and in the idea that our nation is at its best when we are creating opportunity and equality for all who live here.
  2. We believe in the national hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people, in our collective future and the contributions we have made and will make to the world.  And those aspirations include a vibrant future for the state of the Jewish people, Israel.
  3. And we believe that, despite whatever differences we have within our own community, we have to work together; because we cannot achieve our hopes alone. And, we have to work in the public square of civil society to build support for our priorities and our shared values.

This is why JCRC, as a broad network including 42 organizations, partnering with synagogues, rabbis and community leaders, each leading in their own way reflecting their unique skills and passions – comes together as one community, working for the brightest possible future, including for our own children and the children of our neighbors.

   

Clockwise from top left: JCRC Celebrates Honoree Mark Friedman with Barry Shrage, CJP President; Mark’s tutee, Ohrenberger School 4th grader Adam, speaks at JCRC Celebrates; JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton; Event Chair and Co-Chair Stacey Bloom (left) and Debbie Isaacson

Because every child has the potential to contribute to the strength of our nation. That is why earlier this year we brought together seventeen of the most influential Jewish organizations in Boston to say that we must keep our doors open to immigrants and refugees, and that we will protect and support our neighbors regardless of their immigration status.

Because every child, every girl - and boys too - should know that if they study hard and work an honest day they’ll be treated fairly. That is why we worked to pass the Equal Pay Law last summer.

Because every child should be able to go to their synagogue, their mosque or to a JCC without fear. That is why we advocate that our government provide the resources necessary to ensure the safety and security of non-profit institutions.

Because every child should be able to follow their passions – sports, arts, whatever - and be able to go to public venues knowing that they will be welcome. That is why we fought to pass the Transgender Public Accommodation Law and we will defend it if challenged on the ballot next year.

And because the children of Israel should have a future of peace in a Jewish and democratic state. They should be able to live in co-existence with their neighbors, and with the security that all people deserve.

That is why we engage civic and religious leaders in support of Israel. Over the past five years we’ve taken over fifty Christian clergy and civic leaders and fully one-third of the Massachusetts legislature to Israel to deepen their appreciation of the Israel we love and the people we believe in.

That is why we work to prevent the demonization of Israel in Boston and around the world. And it is why we build support for Israelis and Palestinians who are coming together on the ground to create the conditions for a future of two-states living side by side in peace.

We do all this rooted in the same values that inspire us to reach out to young adults, to synagogues, to student groups and others, inviting them to do service – in soup kitchens and youth programs, with seniors and with kids needing tutoring.

Because every child deserves a quality education and the chance to acquire the skills needed for success. And we believe it is our responsibility to help those children realize their dreams. That is why, twenty years ago, with the leadership of so many of you, JCRC established the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and it is why we are so proud to celebrate this and all of our work.

Thank you to all of you for your partnership. You make this work possible.

And thank you for allowing JCRC to be an effective vehicle to offer an inspiring vision of our Jewish community’s values in the public square every single day.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

p.s. I’ll be off next week. On behalf of everyone at JCRC I wish you a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and Chag Shavuot Sameach.

p.s.s. See photos and more photos from JCRC Celebrates on Facebook!

Honoring 20 Years of the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy

This coming Wednesday, JCRC will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL). As we honor some very special leaders who helped us reach this momentous occasion, we also reflect on the thousands of community members who’ve made such a difference in children’s lives through this initiative.

The GBJCL team leaders are largely unsung heroes within our volunteer pool. These hardworking and dedicated volunteers are at the nexus of relationships between each synagogue and its partner school. They go above and beyond to cultivate the partnerships, laying the groundwork for fulfilling volunteer experiences for all of our tutors.

Two of their stories:

For seventeen years, Joan Beer of Temple Emanuel in Newton has been a volunteer and GBJCL team leader. In that capacity, Joan has worked closely with school liaison Joan Dill at the Beethoven-Ohrenberger School in Boston, to match over 30 tutors with young students. In addition to ensuring that each tutor is supported in providing ongoing individual attention to their students, “the Joans” launched the school’s first book club, spurring spirited conversations about each special book selection, and inspiring the love of reading.

“What brought me to tutoring was a basic love of children. I always wanted to be a teacher,” Joan Beer said. “Just knowing you can have an impact on one person by assisting them and taking an interest in them I think is very important.” Communications Joan receives from former students confirm the positive and enduring influence she has had on them. One former student recently wrote:

“I hope the year has been treating you well.  I am now in my sophomore year at Boston Latin Academy and when looking back, you are one of the people that has brought me to where I am now.”

Joan will be stepping down as team leader at the end of this year. Her dedication and commitment to the school, the students, and GBJCL has inspired a new generation of team leaders who not only feel compelled to give back to their community through service but have the energy and passion to inspire their peers to do the same.

One of these up and coming team leaders is Liza Hadley, who began tutoring while an intern at the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish. Their team uses their lunch hour to volunteer one on one with students at the Condon School in South Boston. Liza was so impacted by the experience that she decided to work with us to bring the program to her community at Boston University Law School.

Liza has strong ties to Boston through her grandparents who immigrated here after surviving the Holocaust. Liza reflects that “a lot of things hit home” for her as she considered her involvement in the program. Her grandparents instilled in her a love of reading as well as a deep appreciation for education, since they themselves were denied that opportunity. Through GBJCL, Liza is able to ensure that their legacy lives on.

The next chapter of Liza’s involvement in GBJCL has just begun. Liza has engaged the Jewish Law Students Association, the Women's Law Association, and the Public Interest Project at Boston University to begin mobilizing volunteers. GBJCL has paired them up with the Curley School in Jamaica Plain and with second grade teacher Emily Beck. Liza and Emily will be working closely together over the next several months and aim to have a team of volunteers with Liza leading the way for next year.

GBJCL embodies a Jewish tradition of taking responsibility mi dor l’dor, from one generation to the next – volunteers passing on reading skills to students, and volunteers passing on leadership to volunteers - like links in a chain, becoming stronger as we move forward.  The expertise and commitment of those who have gone before have laid a strong foundation, one which will continue to flourish in the years ahead.

As we begin the next 20 years for GBJCL, we are grateful to the new generation of team leaders who are stepping up not only to ensure the continued vitality of our program, but also to collaborate with us to expand our model and extend this unique opportunity to more volunteers. To reach community members interested in volunteering who may not be able to commit to a full year of service, we are now partnering with universities, corporations and other non-profits to design new models of tutoring.

I hope you will join us on Wednesday, May 24th at JCRC Celebrates to learn more about our incredible volunteers and to honor one special volunteer, Mark Friedman, whose dedication and commitment knows no bounds. With your support, we can engage more leaders like Joan, Liza, and Mark to make an impact on our community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Beyond Books and Borders

On the eve of Passover, when we share our national story and reenact our journey, I share with you the story of one of our literacy volunteers and the deep connections she has fostered with her students through their shared life journeys.

In May of 1960, Marion Bank was 13 and living in Chile when she experienced the largest recorded seismic event to date. What became known as the Great Chilean Earthquake had devastating effects all over Chile, and continued to have ripple effects from Japan and the Philippines to Alaska. This experience left a lasting impact on Marion - one she would share over 55 years later with a group of fourth graders at the Stapleton Elementary School in Framingham, where – as part of a team from Temple Beth Sholom, Framingham - she tutors with the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL).

Marion currently works in the fourth grade science class on Wednesday mornings. On this particular day, the students were learning about earthquakes and Marion was able to make the concept come alive with her story of trauma and survival from her childhood. The room lit up. The students asked questions: “What did you do?” “Were you scared?” “Did you have nightmares after that?” The lesson became much more than a routine science class and the students were able to understand the very real impact of earthquakes in a new way.

Marion, like many of our GBJCL students, immigrated to America when she was young. Her parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939. They got on a ship -not knowing where it was headed - and ended up in Chile. Almost a quarter century later, having survived the Nazi era, Marion’s family decided to move to America.

Marion’s connection to the immigrant experiences of others is a deeply personal one. As a tutor at Stapleton, she is able to connect with students who are new to this county and who are adjusting to a new life in a new place. One young boy joined the Stapleton class shortly after he and his family emigrated from Brazil. He was very shy about using English and did not feel confident writing when asked. Marion worked closely with him, engaging him in conversation about what he wanted to learn. She would then write down his answers and share it with the teacher.

That experience gave this student more assurance and, by the end of the year, he was a full participant in the class. Marion’s own experience of being a stranger in a new land allowed her to lend the support needed to build her young friend’s confidence as a capable student and an English speaker.
After learning Marion’s story about her family’s journey to Chile and then America, Lianne Manzella, the 4th grade science teacher, decided to design her immigration unit around Marion’s experience later this spring. Once again, the students will have the opportunity to learn from Marion’s first-hand experience. They’ll have the opportunity to understand her unique perspective as an immigrant and just maybe, to share their own immigration stories.

As we continue our GBJCL20 celebration, we are sharing stories that celebrate the impact the program has had on students and volunteer tutors. Our tutors are as diverse as the students we work with, coming from different backgrounds and bringing a variety of experiences with them to the program. Join us in celebrating the 20th anniversary of our literacy volunteer program as JCRC Celebrates on May 24th.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Passover,

Jeremy