By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Brotherhood Synagogue, which regularly organizes its congregants in various charitable efforts, has most recently concluded a book drive with Project Cicero, an annual non-profit project that provides reading material to under-resourced public schools.
Lynn Abraham, a member of Brotherhood Synagogue and a board member for Project Cicero, said that as of last week, the synagogue managed to collect 12 boxes of books throughout the past month. By the end of the donation period last Sunday, the total was 17 boxes.
“That’s extraordinary for a synagogue,” she said.
The donation efforts for Project Cicero at the synagogue have been spearheaded by the synagogue’s Social Action Committee member Linda Yee Kaleko, who said that Brotherhood has been involved with the organization for about six years.
“My daughter happened to really love reading and books when she was in high school,” Kaleko said. “Sometimes in the committee we try to come up with new projects and this came up when we were looking for something so it worked out very well.”
Abraham said that since Project Cicero has started in 2001, it has been able to put about three million books back into the public school system.
“We’re taking things that people don’t want and we are handing them back to the community,” she said. “Reading a book can open up a new world to you and some children don’t have access to these books, so it’s nice to see that we can donate out books that we don’t use.”
Abraham said that Project Cicero focuses on books for younger students, but accepts anything through a high school reading level. The only books that aren’t taken are books for adults. While it might be difficult to imagine a charity having too much of the specified donated item, Abraham said that there is no use for the more adult books since they can’t be donated to schools and the extra reading material can ultimately be a burden.
As a librarian, Abraham knows the full extent of the struggle that comes with having too many books: “It’s impossible to get rid of them because not a lot of places will accept book donations,” she said. “Even libraries won’t take them because it’s so expensive to re-catalogue them that it’s cheaper to buy them new.”
The organization, which doesn’t do any fundraising, tends to focus its donation efforts on private schools, and particularly nursery schools. One of the new aspects of the project this year is the additional of pre-K to the school system, so Project Cicero was hoping for more books in the lower age ranges.
All of the books collected at Brotherhood were packaged up and distributed throughout this past weekend. Abraham said that there is no way to get an exact count of the number of books donated, but estimates for each year from all of the collections throughout the city are in the 250,000 range. She said that the leftovers that aren’t claimed by teachers throughout the weekend are donated to Housing Works and various nursery schools.
The organization uses the ballroom at the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Penn Station through a partnership with the Vornado Realty Trust, and teachers are allowed 15-minute time slots to collect books. Teachers are allowed to bring suitcases with them to transport the books but can’t bring the bags into the ballroom, so the event is usually a frenzy of teachers grabbing as many as they can, throwing them into the suitcases and doubling back for anymore they can find.
“When we went for the first time, I was totally blown away,” she said. “(Teachers) were filling the suitcases up as much as they could and they get to take all these books back to their classroom. When you’re in the middle of it when you see how excited the teachers get, it’s a nice experience.”