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The People of the Book Literacy Project

The synagogue has partnered with a local elementary school to improve the literacy of the students. By donating money for new books, buying books, and creating tutoring programs, the synagogue has shown what it means to be "The People of the Book."

Temple Sinai
2808 Summit Street
Oakland, California 94609
(510) 451-3263

Target Groups: Adults, Multi-Generational Social Action Program, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program

The ability to read by the end of third grade is a critical measure of a child's prospects in later life. It is for that reason that President Clinton established the America Reads Challenge, and it was in response to that challenge that the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy was established. While the national data are bleak-40 percent of third graders read below grade level-the conditions in Oakland are even worse, with 65 percent of public school students reading below grade level. And as to the libraries in California's schools, there is one librarian for every 6179 students, compared to a national average of one for every 882 pupils; California spends $.78 per student on children's books, compared to a national average of $7.47.

In response to these sorry data and to the new national effort, Temple Sinai has connected with the Longfellow Elementary School, which is located about a mile from the synagogue. Over half the students at Longfellow live in poverty; 90 percent qualify for subsidized lunches. More pertinently, half its students read below grade level, and many come from homes where there are no books at all and not a few of their parents are functionally illiterate. The library is in particularly bad condition, with science books that predate the first moon landing and geography books that show the Soviet Union intact.

After substantial preparation and a number of meetings with the Longfellow principal and teaching staff, Temple Sinai members decided to provide reading tutors and to address the condition of the library. Some $8000 was raised from members of the temple, who also donated 1600 books to the library; one hundred new books have been bought, and another 100 are now on order. And some 50 members of the congregation engage in either tutoring or staffing the library. Generally, response to the opportunity to lend a hand at the Longfellow School has been so positive that the program has moved farther and faster than originally anticipated. Arrangements are being developed to enable B'nai Mitzvah and Confirmation students to volunteer as reading buddies in an after-school program, and consideration is now being given regarding ways to help the children's parents.

The Fain Award is presented to Temple Sinai in recognition and appreciation of the readiness of its members to accept responsibility for the education of their neighbors, and for their powerful translation of what it means to be "The People of the Book."