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Light Up Literacy is a program that teaches children the joy of g'milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and brings tikkun olam (social action and the pursuit of social justice) to Hanukkah.

Light Up Literacy Brings the Joy of Reading to Guatemala

In Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s second grade classroom, children tried to imagine a life without reading or books.

“I can’t imagine going to sleep without my mother reading to me,” said one wide-eyed girl in the class. “We are always reading or talking about reading. Even when we’re driving in the car, my mom tells me a story or talks to me about what we’re going to read.”

The children in this classroom are participating in Light Up Literacy, an innovative Hanukkah program of Reading Village, a Boulder-based organization that brings the joy of reading to rural Guatemala, where approximately half of the population cannot read, and lives in the darkness of illiteracy.

In this particular activity, these second graders learned about their counterparts in rural Guatemala, who do not have books in their houses or people to read to them.

Light Up Literacy is a resource-rich program that teaches children the joy of g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and brings tikkun olam (social action and the pursuit of social justice) to Hanukkah. Through Light Up Literacy, our children can learn the important Hanukkah lessons of hard-won freedom, justice, and tzedakah, and be a shamash — an important source of light in the lives of others.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) recently mentioned Light Up Literacy as a way to add make Hanukkah celebrations more memorable in its December 12, 2011 article, “Giving the gift of tikkun olam.”

“We love the work of Light Up Literacy,” said Vinny Green, the K-6 administrator of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School. “We are adopting Light Up Literacy as our tzedakah (charity) project for November and December this year.”

For the third year in a row, congregations from the Reform and Conservative movements around the country will participate in this innovative Hanukkah program that teaches children the joy of giving and of helping others in need. In Los Angeles, participating congregations include the Stephen S. Wise Temple, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and the University Synagogue.

“Through Light Up Literacy, families dedicate one night of Hanukkah to celebrate reading and the gift of literacy,” said Linda Smith, co-founder of Reading Village, the creators of Light Up Literacy. “Parents set aside money they might have otherwise spent on gifts to support reading in a country where there are few books and where the literacy rate in rural communities less than 50%.”

Because of the low literacy rate and lack of books, the cycle of parents reading to children has been broken. Reading Village is working to mend that cycle. The organization provides scholarships and leadership development training to Guatemalan teens, and in return, these youth give back to their communities by engaging young children in their community in reading activities.

By joining together with Light Up Literacy, these temples in Los Angeles will help repair this broken cycle.

Guatemala has the second lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere. In rural areas only 25% of children complete the sixth grade and less than 10% go on to high school. Public school in Guatemala is not free, and the cost of tuition, books, uniforms, supplies and transportation can exceed a month’s income for just one child.

Reading Village is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. Donations to this organization perform double duty: they keep youth in school by providing scholarships and they promote literacy through their teen reading promoter program. The organization’s vision is to transform the lives of Guatemalan children through literacy. For more information on Reading Village or to donate see www.readingvillage.org.

About Lori Goldman

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