Tag Archives: literacy

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/

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

We’re Proud to Celebrate: #GBJCL20

Reading and education are essential to Jewish identity and to our perseverance as a people; they are the vehicles for transmitting our tradition and living a Jewish life. As Jews of the Diaspora, we understand that the gifts of education, knowledge and reasoning were - and still are - key to our survival. For centuries, we faced discrimination and worse. Shut out of many schools and locked out of educational opportunities, we built our own. Within our own communities, often segregated from the rest of society, we educated ourselves and our children. Now, generations later, we continue to value knowledge as power, and as a means to ensuring the vibrancy and future of our people.

Recognizing that education provides access to opportunity, President Clinton embarked on an initiative over two decades ago, called America Reads. He outlined a simple but audacious plan, issuing the call to recruit one million volunteer tutors from across the country to help students learn to read by the end of third grade. Legendary social justice pioneer Leonard (Leibel) Fein, z”l jumped at the opportunity to engage the Jewish community. The intellectual architect of liberal Jewish engagement over the past many decades, Fein was a prolific writer and thought leader for the burgeoning Jewish social justice movement. His writings appeared regularly in The Forward and Moment Magazine, which he co-founded. But Fein’s work transcended the theoretical; his passion demanded that Jews act on our values in the world. He founded Mazon, a non-profit that has raised millions of dollars from the Jewish community to combat hunger.

Fein seized on Clinton’s initiative as an opportunity to mobilize the Jewish community in acting on our most cherished value; igniting the love of reading and learning. With no plan, and not a single volunteer on board, he impulsively promised to deliver the first 10,000 tutors from the Jewish community. In 1997 he approached my predecessor, Nancy Kaufman, with a bold proposal; for JCRC to be the pilot for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, recruiting Boston’s primarily suburban Jews in tutoring weekly in high need urban elementary schools. Nancy sprang into action and the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) was born. Our program grew quickly, as JCRC identified leaders at area synagogues to recruit teams of volunteers within their community to work with young students throughout Greater Boston. Twenty years later, we are honored to carry on the legacy of these Jewish social justice giants and to fulfill our commitment to education as we enrich the lives of our Commonwealth’s children.

Today GBJCL continues to be a powerful vehicle; providing needed services to students and meaningful experiences to our community members, as we serve some 500 students each week of the school year, in 24 schools throughout Greater Boston. The service of our 322 volunteers extends way beyond their required weekly sessions with their assigned students. Our tutors support the whole school community in multiple ways including helping with science and book fairs, doing “read-alouds” and organizing book drives.

As we reach GBJCL’s 20th birthday, I am excited to let you know about JCRC’s year-long celebration to mark the program’s achievements and ensure its robust future. In the coming months, we will be sharing stories of the volunteers and students whose lives have been transformed through this remarkable program. We will also be hosting opportunities throughout the school year to recognize our partnerships, honor our volunteers and thank our supporters. And, we will celebrate GBJCL20 at JCRC Celebrates this spring (save the date for May 24th!)

And, if you want to experience GBJCL firsthand, visit our website for information about volunteering or setting up a team at your synagogue or company.

Wishing you a 2017 filled with the joy of reading!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy