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Jewish books are cultural ambassadors

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NEW YORK, July 2 (JTA) — Jewish books aren’t just for Jews any more.

This summer, the Los Angeles library initiates a national summer reading program aimed at children in preschool through sixth grade.

But even though the books read must be Jewish, the children do not.

“We can exchange between different cultural centers,” said Abigail Yasgur, a librarian and director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, mentioning Japanese, African American, Filipino and Korean community centers in California and elsewhere.

“You start to read my literature, I’ll start to read your literature. You start to understand my culture because you read my literature, and I’ll start to understand your culture because I read your literature,” she said.

The reading program requires children to read six books “of Jewish content” at an age-appropriate level before the end of September. After filling out a form, available online at www.jclla.org, participants receive a certificate and a prize.

“It’s family-based education,” Yasgur said. “If the fifth-grader in your family reads to the preschooler, both children can put the book on their list. It’s a win-win situation, out there to get kids to participate in Jewish literacy.”

The summer reading program is the first activity of the new National Children’s Jewish Literacy Campaign, begun in Los Angeles with a national advisory board.

Future events include a radio program with celebrities, including Sandra Bernhard and Henry Winkler, reading Jewish stories, said Yasgur. The program, called “One People, Many Voices,” should be released before Chanukah.

For the past three years, the Los Angeles library conducted the book program successfully on a local level.

Yasgur said she mailed about 30,000 brochures to libraries across the country, including contacting non-Jewish organizations, informing them of the summer reading program. The program is funded through grants from the Ahmanson Foundation, the David Geffen Foundation, the Lear Family Foundation and the Winnick Family Foundation.

“There’s no other national umbrella summer reading program that focuses on Jewish reading,” Yasgur said. “The beauty of this program is, I’m responsible for getting the participants their certificates and prizes, so it won’t make a dent in other budgets.”

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