Judaism’s love of books is legendary. Jewish people are known as “the People of the book.”
Jewish tradition treats books with respect and awe. The Torah is treated as a living feeling thing. It’s dressed as royalty complete with a crown. When the Torah is lifted, people stand. A sacred book that falls on the ground is immediately picked up and kissed. When a Torah scroll is broken beyond repair, it is buried. So too do Jews burry or burn in a sacred fire other religious texts when they become too old.
The Spokane Area Jewish Family Services funds local access to PJ Library. PJ Library is a Jewish program designed to aid family engagement by sending free books and music to Jewish families. According to the PJ Library website, “Today, families in hundreds of communities across the United States and Canada are able to explore the timeless core values of Judaism through books and music.”
The way Jews dress, store, and treat books serves to reinforce the user’s sense of holiness of and through books. In “The Beating Heart of Jewish Education,” Association of Jewish Libraries President Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin writes, “For we are the People of the Book, and the library is the beating heart of our very Jewish love of learning.”
So it was no surprise to us when our 6-year-old was fascinated by a news story about a free book vending machine. What was surprising however was what she took away from the report. Before the segment ended, she pointed to the television screen and announced, “Blessings Under the Bridge needs one of those.”
We first volunteered with Blessings Under the Bridge two years ago at an event set up by our synagogue’s Social Action Tikkun Olam group. Since then, at the insistence of our 6-year-old and her best friend, we’ve become very active with them. Still, I assumed a feature on free books would make my daughter think of her own wants and needs. I was surprised (and ecstatic) that her first thought was of her friends at Blessings Under the Bridge.
One thing Blessings Under the Bridge emphasizes for volunteers is that we actually acknowledge and see those we’re there to help. Volunteers are encouraged to serve them, talk to them, smile at them. During one of our early days with Blessings Under the Bridge, I was floored when I heard someone explain that, for many, the Wednesday feed is the only time people speak to them or even maintain eye contact.
I knew the book vending machine probably wasn’t feasible for the space under the bridge, so we had to get creative. We were familiar with the Little Free Library project and it seemed to meet Adeline’s needs. We found that some had created mobile Little Free Libraries out of coolers, baskets, luggage, car trailers, and shelves on wheels. After running the idea by Jessica Kovac at Blessings Under the Bridge, we headed to thrift stores and found a small rolling luggage that fit the bill.
At home, the whole family worked to decorate it and started searching shelves for books to donate. Later, we took it to Violet’s house where she too got to add her artistic touch. We then filled it with donated books from the kids themselves, friends, and family. The books range from board books for babies to paperbacks for adults.
With the help of friends, family, and even strangers, we’ve kept the library filled.
Just days after the library’s first visit to Blessings Under the Bridge, the New York Public Library posted an image on Instagram which read, “Books are as necessary to human beings as food and shelter.” That sums up Adeline and Judaism’s philosophy quite well.