by Jonathan Strausberg
Last week, I returned to Baltimore to celebrate the opening of the National Library Initiative‘s 36th children’s library at CHANA, the domestic violence agency for Baltimore’s Jewish community. This library’s opening had special meaning to me since I know so many people in the Baltimore Jewish community and the leaders of CHANA. To be a part of the opening of their new offices and giving the gift of a library was a wonderful feeling, and it got me thinking.
An article I recently saw discussed that children living in poverty or homelessness, such as many of the children escaping domestic violence situations, have almost no access to books – either their own or those of a library. Access and ownership of books has critical impact on academic achievement and literacy. That’s why opening a new children’s library is so important.
This all made me remember my home and my access to books. All of my life I’ve been surrounded by books, whether in my room as a child or in the basement where my parents had shelf upon shelf of books, admittedly mostly adult books, but nonetheless the love of books and reading was imbued in me at a very young age. I can’t even tell you how many times my parents, grandmothers, or aunts and uncles gave my sister and me books as presents. Collectively they gave us the gift of reading. On weekends we would invariably go to the local library or a bookstore, it was almost a family ritual. It seemed like everywhere we went there were books to open, read, and through which we could explore the world.
Suffice it to say, my sister and I did not want for books.
The result today is that my sister and I love reading. My wife and I have a room that is almost entirely covered in bookshelves that are so full that we have to stack books on tables. Books are an essential part of my daily life.
(l-r) Judge Chaya Friedman (Past Chair, CHANA), Susan W. Turnbull (Board Chair, JWI), and Nancy Aiken (Director, CHANA) pose by the plaque dedicating the new library.
A Jewish scholar once wrote, “If you drop gold and books, pick up the books first, then the gold.” Each book in each library that we open is more valuable than a single piece of gold, and collectively they are among the most precious gifts in the world. We are giving the gift of learning, of imagination, and of the opportunity to build a brighter future.
In the coming year we plan to open at least seven new libraries around the country. Each one will be full of books and décor that create a warm and inviting environment in the shelter, making it a special place for children to relax and find comfort. It will be exciting to see each one open and the faces of the children who will benefit from the libraries.