Library day — nice low-key, low-tech family time

On a chilly Sunday in November at San Francisco's Jewish Community Library, 7-year-old Rachel Makou carefully completes the final touches on her homemade book, decorating it with a metallic pen.

"I did it!" she exclaims.

With the guidance of their parents and art instructor Sandy Cohen-Wynn, she and 10 other children fold, glue and decorate their own blank books in celebration of Jewish Book Month.

"It's cozy and warm to come to the Jewish library. It feels like you're at home," says Lynne Rappaport, who has attended a number of Book Time for Family events with her 5-year-old daughter, Talia.

A collaboration between the Bureau of Jewish Education's library and the Jewish Family Education Project, Book Time for Families happens six or seven times a year; each event has a different theme.

Often, themes revolve around holidays: making masks and noisemakers for Purim, playing dreidels and lighting candles on Chanukah, cleaning up Golden Gate Park for Tu B'Shevat.

Participants have used recycled materials to make hamsas, which are amulets in the shape of hands. They've also played biblical charades. When there's music, it's interactive, letting the children use their voices and move their bodies.

And, of course, there's Book Time. Head librarian Jonathan Schwartz is the story reader, a role he relishes.

"I always say it's the best part of my job," he says.

Schwartz started Book Time four years ago in collaboration with Vicky Kelman, director of the BJE's Jewish Family Education Project.

"I felt the library was a perfect setting for a relaxed time for kids and their parents," says Schwartz.

"Children learn best when they learn with their parents. School is important, but unless there's reinforcement within the family the learning just doesn't happen."

Kelman says it's also a way of bringing Jewish learning out of the synagogue and into the home.

"It's a transformative view of Jewish education. The right kind of shared experience can transform the Jewishness of the family."

Reading Jewish books together is a great place to start, she says.

"When you put a Jewish book in the hands of a parent or a child, you're giving them something they feel competent to do and you're slipping in some shared Jewish learning. We think that's more effective than…sending the child to school and expecting the child to create Judaism for himself or bring Judaism home to the family."

Natalie Man, who is 8-1/2, writes "Keep out" on her newly made book, mainly "to keep my brother out," she explains.

Seven-year-old Leslie Silverstein is going to use hers as a scrapbook for pictures of her family.

After they finish making their books, the children listen to Schwartz read. Both stories are recent releases, "When Mindy Saved Hanukkah," about a tiny Jewish family terrorized by a cat called Antiochus, and "To Everything," a colorfully illustrated book based on a passage from Ecclesiastes.

Everyone is engrossed as Schwartz reads.

"There's something about when kids are confronted by a live reader," he says. "The parents love it as much as the kids. I look up and I see trance-like faces on both adults and children."

The event is topped off with apple juice, cookies and books to take home. Children collect a sticker for every visit. When they collect five, they get a free book.

Ruth Rainero has been coming for three years with her two children.

"It's different from Hebrew school and it's different from other music and art programs that don't have a Jewish component," she says.

She adds that her 5-year-old son, Benjamin, loves having his own library card and collecting the stickers.

"My kids would check out books anyway, they're total bookophiles, but it personalizes it. It's a nice low-key, low-tech, family time."