Posts tagged ‘synagogue libraries’

My first synagogue library program!

I work part-time at a synagogue library in town and in the six and a half months I’ve been there, it’s been a really interesting experience. I’m not Jewish, so I’ve learned a lot about Judaism through my work and through long conversations with my boss, George, the education director. And since I’m the only person who works at the library, I’ve learned a lot about library work by doing everything: I select, catalog, and process all of the new books; I create book lists and book displays; I answer reference questions and help people find books; I do storytimes with the preschoolers; and I’ve been working on some other projects of my own, like cleaning up catalog records (there hasn’t been a lot of continuity in library work and not everyone who’s worked at the library has been a librarian so there are all sorts of discrepancies and irregularities in the catalog) and introducing a new shelf labeling system and doing a complete inventory (we still use a card system for checkout and there are no security measures, so books just walk away) and creating a library mission and a proto-collection development policy.

But the project that finally came to fruition today was my first fundraising program. Unlike in a public library, the programs that the synagogue library puts on often have a small admission fee to supplement the library budget. The library’s been nearly dormant for a while, so it’d been a while since we’d done any programming (fundraising or not). I came up with a list for George this winter of potential events we could do. He especially liked my suggestion of bringing Eileen Goltz, a professional chef and caterer and food writer (she does newspaper columns and wrote the excellent PERFECTLY PAREVE), to come do a cooking demonstration and talk about new ideas for Pesach/Passover, so I started planning that.

I have to admit I was nervous leading up to her visit. Since I only work there on Sunday mornings and on Thursdays, Eileen and I had been playing phone tag a lot and the idea for the event had evolved over time. We had to push the event back a week after booking her because of a conflict with other synagogue events. We didn’t have access to the kitchen since the synagogue’s had already been prepared for Passover and were going to have to make do with hot plates. We hadn’t had as many registrations by the end of last week as I’d been hoping to see and since Daylight Saving Time began today I was worried that everyone would show up an hour late. But Eileen was early and we had plenty of time to make handouts and get everything ready and catch up (I was friends in high school with one of her sons). And we had a great turnout!

Professional chef, caterer, and food writer Eileen Goltz speaks before an group at an event for the library at Beth-El Zedeck, a synagogue in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Eileen speaks to the attendees

After I did a little library promotion and then sung a few of Eileen’s many praises, she started off by talking about how intensive cooking and cleaning for Passover can be (but don’t necessarily have to be!), and then gave a great history of the availability of kosher foods in the US. Before the 1960s or so, you had to go to specialty stores to get kosher food and there wasn’t a lot beyond matzah, gefilte fish, and kosher wine that wasn’t very good. But in the 1960s and 1970s, kosher food because more varied, more widely available, and more delicious and now there are all sorts of options. She also talked just a little bit about all of the different organizations that issue hechsherim, those symbols on food that tell you whether or not (and to what extent) it’s kosher (check out this illustrated list of hechsherim). Then she walked us through some recipes that she liked for Passover, suggesting substitutions on the fly for one woman whose child was allergic to dairy products. She showed us some of the dishes that she’d prepared beforehand and we all got tastes of the crustless quiche and the macaroon-and-almond pie crust–and oh man was it delicious.

Everyone at the event seemed to have a great time and they all were comfortable enough to ask questions along the way and Eileen did a great job of handling those questions and organizing the presentation in general. She was a very engaging speaker and she really knows her stuff. George and I both had a number of people come up to us afterward to say what a great time they’d had and how much they’d learned, and the executive director of the synagogue said she wanted to have Eileen back again. By the time we’d cleaned up and met back at the library, George was waiting with a request that Eileen come back for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which happen in the fall).

So despite some bumps along the way in planning, the program didn’t just go well, it went spectacularly. I was so proud of how well everything turned out and what a great time everyone had and how much fun Eileen had and how everyone wanted her to come back. And I learned so much from planning this whole thing myself about event planning in general and about working with other people in the same organization and the importance of good communication and all sorts of wonderful things that I’m sure will serve me well once I graduate. It was such a confidence builder to have it go so splendidly!

We made some money for the library, but more importantly we got the library back in people’s minds as a resource available to them and as a place that does cool things–I even had one man stop by that morning to say that he’d been a member of the congregation for years but had never stopped by the library and that now he wanted to check out a book he’d seen in the window display. I’m so proud of all the progress the library’s made in the last few months and I’m really excited to tackle my next project there.

March 14, 2010 at 10:28 PM Leave a comment