One Book, One Philly: A Communal Discussion

Your typical book club may attract between five and 10 members, and meet once a month or so. Club gatherings probably take place in a member's living room, where bowls of chips and cheese plates eat up the lion's share of the "programming budget."

"One Book, One Jewish Community: Connecting People One Book at a Time" is not this kind of club. Instead, the program, which begins this fall, will function as a reading project for all of Jewish Philadelphia, offering a panoply of events, lectures and discussion sessions structured around a single Jewish book.

Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in conjunction with the Jewish Outreach Partnership, the program has enlisted a broad cohort of partner institutions, including Gratz College, the Jewish Publication Society, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education, the JCCs of Greater Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, and the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Archive at the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

The partnership also includes a number of non-Jewish entities, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in addition to 11 synagogues throughout the region.

According to Jewish Outreach Partnership education director Elana Rivel, the hope is to draw in the entire community.

"Our picture is that we have this book, and it is literally being read across the community — in synagogues, in bookstores, in institutions across the greater Philadelphia area," she said. "We see this as a community conversation."

This year, the chosen book is Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, by Aaron Lansky. In the 312-page work, Lansky, the current president of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., chronicles his crusade to salvage Yiddish books from a state of ruin, even possible extinction. Written in a highly readable manner, Lansky juxtaposes humorous anecdotes about dumpster-diving and Indiana Jones-style attic raids with serious passages about the place of Yiddish in Jewish history.

Rivel said that programming will officially begin on Nov. 4, when Lansky himself will speak at an event that's free and open to the public. Other programs in the works include a klezmer music performance, a Yiddish-language workshop, film screenings and story readings, said Rivel. The series will end in early April.

To promote participation, the Jewish Outreach Partnership will sell the book for just $6 — about 60 percent below the wholesale price.

The education director explained that "One Book, One Jewish Community" will also encourage partner institutions to plan events of their own.

To this end, the initiative will create a resource guide, replete with movies, music, books and lesson plans related to the book. A Web site — — has already been developed, and several synagogues will be handing out free copies of the book during the High Holidays.

According to Rabbi David M. Ackerman, co-chair of the 12- member task force that chose the book, Outwitting History was one of many Jewish titles considered. The rabbi, who heads Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, said it was selected because of how it balanced "readability and accessibility versus literary merit."

Said Ackerman: "We didn't want something too intellectual or too dense; we wanted something with enough meat on the bones so people would have things to talk about."



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