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Faith groups to host diverse, trans-inclusive Evanston book fair
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2017-02-15

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Novelist Marcel Proust once noted that "there are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book."

InterfaithFamily ( IFF )/Chicago. the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation ( JRC ) in Evanston and PJ Library ( a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation which sends free Jewish children's books and music to kids and families across the world ) have teamed up for a Feb. 26 book fair at the JRC which promises not only to introduce a child to their new favorite book but open their eyes to the magnificently diverse world in which they can live "so fully."

Rabbi Ari Moffic is the Director of InterfaithFamily Chicago—a local office of the organization dedicated to supporting interfaith families exploring Jewish life.

She told Windy City Times that the idea for the book fair was seeded following an introduction to author Jessica Herthel who co-wrote the 2014 children's bestseller I am Jazz about the life of celebrated transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings.

"Jessica graciously offered to come into Chicago and share the book, how she came to write it and the lessons from it," Moffic said. "So we took her up on it. The JRC were not only willing to host but put in a lot of volunteer and talent effort towards what now has become a book fair on increasing the diversity of the books we read to our kids."

The event has blossomed in size and scope with nine different organizations participating including IFF/Chicago, JRC, the Jewish Child and Family Services ( JCFS ) Response Center and Project Esther, Keshet, the Illinois Holocaust Museum, the Evanston Public Library, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Education Center and Spiritual Playdate.

Each will be bringing their favorite children's and family books available to read. Some will also be available to purchase on the day of the fair through the Evanston store Book Ends and Beginnings.

They are works which beautifully weave illustrations, poetry and prose into understanding about adoption, LGBTQ families and children, Jewish spirituality, bullying, Latino life, Autism, Downs Syndrome immigration and a host of other stories crafted from an increasingly multifaceted world.

"As on out lesbian, it's important to me that we are modeling the diverse ways in which we create Jewish families and in which they come together," JRC Rabbi Rachel Weiss said. "I'm really mindful of the books I read to my kids and the books that I want to read to the children of a 500-household congregation. If we want to build the skills, empathies and abilities for our kids to be allies to people who are different than they are, then it has to start with giving them the education of who and what people who are different than them are about."

"We're a congregation where Jewish families don't just look one way," Weiss added. "They are multifaith and multiracial. Some kids join their families through adoption, some have two parents, one parent, queer and straight, coming from different cultures all within one family. Oftentimes we don't have adequate kids' books that reflect who our families actually are."

It was sentiment echoed by both Moffic and JRC Gender Inclusion Taskforce Co-Chair Juliet Berger-White.

"IFF/Chicago took the lead to organize this book fair because our mission is to help create and sustain inclusive Jewish communities and these books showcase the beautiful diversity of families who we want to celebrate and see represented in organized Jewish life," Moffic stated.

"The Gender Inclusion Taskforce is looking at all the systems within JRC to ensure it is an inclusive space for people of all gender identities and gender expressions," Berger-White added. "An event such as this is one of the many outgrowths of that work."

Herthel will serve as the keynote speaker for the book fair. She will be joined by three other renowned writers Gracefully Grayson author Ami Polonsky, Jazzy's Quest co-author Carrie Goldman and The Golden Rule author and Chicagoan Ilene Cooper.

They won't be the only ones reading selections from their books.

Members of the JRC's community comprising all gender identities and expressions will also participate.

Unfortunately, books dealing with diversity which focus in particular on LGB and, most recently, transgender lives and families have been the targets of vitriolic hatred from conservative groups who accuse authors of "indoctrination" into what they believe is a "leftist/liberal agenda."

"One of the dangers that has happened in this country, politically and in the Jewish world is that the only religious voice is the most conservative," Weiss asserted. "The religious left has ceded a public voice to the more orthodox or conservative. It's important for us to raise up the fact that the Jewish world has a strong, progressive voice. It's an important value in Judaism that there's not just one way to be a Jew. We need to model that for our kids. We want to raise kids who are fluent in the language of diversity."

"People can say to themselves 'why would I read to my child a book about someone who is transgender? It might open a can of worms and I don't know if I want them thinking about their gender,'" Moffic added. "But learning about people who are different from yourself can enrich you and your understanding of who you are and your neighbor."

"Fear and pushback about an event such as this emphasizes the need for an event such as this," Berger-White said. "The fear is grounded in a lack of understanding and education."

Open to all, organizers of the book fair—which is open from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26—are on a mission to change all that with the kind of imaginative magic not only children but their parents and family will thoroughly enjoy.

For more information about InterfaithFamily/Chicago, visit: InterfaithFamily.com/elgg/pg/groups/82847/chicagoland. For more information about the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation ( JRC ), visit www.jrc-evanston.org .


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