BJE and its new mobile library on a roll at Palo Alto JCC

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Food carts are a hot new craze. Retail carts are in, as well. Now the cart phenomenon has come to the campus of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

The S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, in conjunction with expanding its services on the Peninsula, has launched a new library pushcart.

Heidi Stein of the Bureau of Jewish Education sets up the new mobile pushcart library at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

Well, three pushcarts, actually. Two are full of some 300 books and DVDs that can be borrowed on the spot, and a laptop sits on the third, giving people online access to more than 30,000 items in the BJE’s Jewish Community Library in San Francisco. People can check out any of those materials, as well, and they’ll be shipped within a couple of days to the Palo Alto JCC for easy pickup.

“It’s really great to be right where the people are,” said Heidi Stein, a part-time BJE employee in charge of the carts.

As part of a soft launch since late November, Stein has been rolling the carts out of the BJE’s office and pushing the heavy beasts to various locations on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life for test runs.

The official launch will come Saturday, Jan. 29 at the BJE’s annual Feast of Jewish Learning, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Oshman Family JCC. After that, the cart will be out about 11 hours per week, plus at special events.

“What’s great is that it’s so flexible,” Stein said via cell phone earlier this week. “One afternoon I can set up for an hour where the senior lunch happens, then go into the middle of the Saal Family Midrahov to catch people coming out of a class, and right now I’m in front of the preschool gates, as parents are arriving with their kids. After the parents leave, I’ll move over to the fitness center.”

Like the BJE’s Jewish Community Library pushcart that’s been at the JCC of San Francisco for years, a majority of checkouts have been for Israeli and Jewish-themed DVDs, Stein said. But cookbooks, kids’ books and the latest titles in Jewish fiction and nonfiction are popular items, as well. So far, more than 100 people have checked out materials, either right from the cart or by ordering something from the BJE’s library in San Francisco.

As much excitement as there has been over the pushcarts, they are but a pushpin in an ever-expanding map of services being offered by the BJE in its Palo Alto office.

For about a year, the BJE has had a presence at the Oshman Family JCC, with its Peninsula Learning Resource Center there offering resource materials and curricula used by educators at synagogues, Jewish day schools and preschools, and even public schools. However, it was staffed by only one person.

Now, the BJE has shifted more staff into the office, with three people working there regularly and three others coming down often from San Francisco.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken this space and made it a base of operations for all of our activities on the Peninsula,” said Sara Smirin, the BJE’s director of marketing who now works out of the office two or three days a week. “There is so much that is happening on the Peninsula, and that’s one of the reasons why this office is so important.”

At the Feast of Jewish Learning, the pushcart library will be out and about, and two of the Feast classes will be held inside the BJE office: a 7:30 p.m. talk about how Jewish life and learning can thrive in today’s busy and diverse world; and an 8:45 p.m. talk about how new technologies are shaping Jewish communities.

Also, the BJE hopes to begin offering its Lunch and Learn series in its Peninsula office soon.

“We should now be able to provide more learning for people,” Smirin said. “There’s a lot going on down here.”

The Bureau of Jewish Education’s Peninsula Learning Resource Center
is at 3921 Fabian Way, Suite A-022, Palo Alto. Information: (650) 494-6983 or Pushcart hours: 9:30-11:30 a.m. Sundays at the Goldman Sports and Wellness Complex; 9-10:30 a.m. Tuesdays at T’enna preschool; 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the sports complex; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursdays in the Marcia and John Goldman Cultural Arts Courtyard; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays in the Jessica Lynn Saal Town Square.



Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.