Wendy Born, past president of Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and past board member of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, saw an email from the United Way a few months ago. The email was from Lehigh Valley Reads, a United Way partner, and talked about the books they were giving to the children in the Lehigh Valley and how they were looking for books with diverse voices. Instantly, Born knew there should be Jewish voices among the diverse stories. With the recent increase in instances of antisemitism and racism, it is especially important to encourage understanding of different cultures. Born set up a meeting with Abby Trachtman, PJ Library coordinator at the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, and Angela Zanelli, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, Campaign Director for Lehigh Valley Reads at PBS39, and also, a PJ Library parent.
Zanelli explained that during the pandemic, Lehigh Valley Reads realized not all local children have home libraries and since libraries were closed, they didn’t have access to books. Lehigh Valley Reads, along with partners and educators determined that a home library should start with 10 age appropriate books per child. Lehigh Valley Reads started a book drive. Zanelli and her small team personally picked up donated books, packaged them by reading level and saw to the distribution of the libraries to local families. Like many of us working from home this last year, she enlisted the help of her wife and children. Lehigh Valley Reads and their partners also realized most children did not have access to diverse stories about other cultures, and they put out an email asking for books with those diverse stories.
“The aim is to learn about the cultures of neighbors through stories that represent the people in our communities,” Zanelli said. “In the same way, we want all children in the Lehigh Valley to be able to see themselves represented in the stories they read.”
With a little brainstorming, Trachtman, Born and Zanelli came up with the book drive idea. Families who have outgrown some of their PJ Library books with positive stories representing Jewish families and values, can donate those books to Lehigh Valley Reads by dropping off gently used books in the collection boxes located at the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, 702 N. 22nd Street, Allentown. The book drive will take place from July 12-23, 2021.
Books will be sorted and distributed to local families to begin their own libraries and those books will contain Jewish voices.
Wendy Born has communicated with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, parent organization of PJ Library. The Foundation is very excited about this collaborative community endeavor. They are hopeful other communities will encourage more access to books discussing Jewish values, families and customs.