On the same page: Three JCCs book their own versions of the Community Read

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Spell tricky words for prizes, create funky sentences with magnetic poetry and, of course, curl up with a good book — all recommended activities for the Peninsula JCC’s “Turning Pages,” a community-wide celebration of reading, writing and literacy.

But that book won’t just be any book. As part of their Jewish Book Month celebrations, the PJCC, Osher Marin JCC and Addison-Penzak JCCs will participate in their own versions of the popular “Community Read” programs, which encourage members of a community to read and discuss the same book at the same time.

To kick off its fifth annual Celebration of Jewish Authors and Book Fair in November, the PJCC is starting the festivities early with Center Read 2008, a first-time event within “Turning Pages,” which invites members of the community to read the same book, and then participate in discussions, presentations and related activities.

“This time around, we were looking for ways to incorporate the entire community,” said Kimberly Gordon, cultural arts director at the PJCC. “We were looking for a way for people to come together and really talk, communicate and share ideas around one book, something in common.”

“Rashi’s Daughters, Book I: Joheved” will be the first book discussed in the “Center Read” series. Author Maggie Anton will talk about her writing process and research, answer questions and sign books at 3 p.m. Oct. 26.

The following day, middle school students at the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City will engage in a conversation with Anton about “Rashi’s Daughter, Secret Scholar,” a version written for young adults.

Anton’s historical fiction novel recounts the story of Joheved, the eldest daughter of Rashi, the famous 11th-century biblical and talmudic commentator. Joheved discovers her passion for religious study, but knowing the risk, must keep her learning and prayer hidden. When she is promised for marriage, she must choose between personal happiness and her love of the Talmud.

“There are so many good books to choose from,” Gordon said. “We wanted to find a Jewish book that the entire campus could read. It’s great that parents and children can read the same or similar story at the same time.”

Programming for “Turning Pages” will focus on the importance and relevance of literacy; every department will participate — even sports and recreation, which has planned a flag football fundraiser for literacy. PJCC staff members will compile the titles of their favorite books into a recommended reading list for the center.

Gordon added that different genres — fiction, poetry, nonfiction — will be represented throughout the event in an effort to appeal to a variety of readers. She’s already heard that local book clubs plan to participate as well.

“Being a JCC, we’re clearly inspired and motivated by fitness, mental health, education and community,” Gordon said. “Literacy is a part of that. We’re certainly very proud of our event and hope people will join us.”

Like the PJCC’s Center Read, the Community Read is the headlining act on the Osher Marin JCC’s Jewish Book Month schedule, which includes an array of authors’ visits starting in November.

More than 300 free copies of “Hana’s Suitcase” by Karen Levine were handed out to parents and children earlier this month, creating positive buzz from its readers. Levine will discuss and sign copies of her book at 1 p.m. Nov. 16.

“Families get to come home at the end of the day, take a deep breath and connect with their children through a story,” said Hagar Ben-Eliezer, the JCC’s director of Jewish cultural programs. “The power of the story really holds true for parents and kids; everyone can take it in.”

“Hana’s Suitcase” follows the journey of a suitcase that arrived at a children’s Holocaust museum in Tokyo. On the outside, in white paint, were the words “Hana Brady” and “waisenkind,” the German word for orphan.

Inquisitive children who saw the suitcase on display urged the museum’s curator, Fumiko Ishioka, to find out more about Hana and what happened to her during the Holo-caust. Ishioka’s quest takes her across Europe and North America as she uncovers the mystery of the suitcase.

Ben-Eliezer re-searched several possible selections for the Community Read, looking for a chapter book with an important message that families could read together. She also recognized that many young readers would find yet another book about the Holocaust boring, and sought out a story that discussed it in a fresh, new way.

“For me, here’s this wonderful book and the opportunity to read it and meet the author,” Ben-Eliezer said. “It makes a lasting impression when [kids] are able to connect the story with the person who wrote it.”

At the Addison-Penzak JCC in the South Bay, the One Community One Book program is a jumping-off point for a year of learning.

“As opposed to choosing a theme, we choose a book, and the book focuses on a number of different themes,” explained Rabbi Joshua Fenton, director of the Center for Jewish Life and Learning at the JCC.

On Dec. 4, author Dara Horn will be at the JCC to discuss her book “The World to Come,” a mystery novel about a stolen Chagall painting that takes readers back to Soviet Russia, New Jersey and even Vietnam.

Over the next year, the JCC will host discussions and lectures about a variety of topics that relate to themes in the book. One lecture, for example, will be about Marc Chagall’s life and his Jewish influences; another, with U.C. Santa Cruz professor Nathaniel Deutsch, will explore what Judaism has to say about the nature of the soul and the afterlife, themes that come up in “The World to Come.”

“People don’t need to read the book in order to participate in any of the programming,” Fenton said. “They can join in at any point in the year.”

“Rashi’s Daughters Book 1: Joheved” by Maggie Anton is now available for purchase for $15 at the Welcome Desk at the Peninsula JCC, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City.

The author will discuss her book at 3 p.m. Oct. 26 in a free program at the PJCC.

Information: (650) 378-2751 or visit www.pjcc.org.

“Hana’s Suitcase” by Karen Levine is currently available for free at the Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael. The author will discuss her book at 1 p.m. Nov. 16 at the

Osher Marin JCC. Tickets: $8 adults, $5 children 15 and under. Information: (415) 444-8000 or www.marinjcc.org.

Dara Horn will discuss her book, “The World to Come,” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Addison-Penzak JCC, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos. The event is free. Information: (408) 357-7413 or [email protected].

Paging all readers: Bay Area JCCs celebrate Jewish Book Month