by Lauryn Smith
Those of you who know me would know how much I love reading, so much so that I’ve read over 100 books in the last year…yes, I know I’m crazy. Though it may have once been a chore annotating countless books throughout my schooling years, nowadays reading is a way for me to learn more about other’s perspectives and experiences, connect with likeminded individuals, but most of all it’s a form of escapism for me. All that being said, when I found out that Keshet has its very own book club, I couldn’t wait to hear more! Book club is just one of the many activity choices offered to Keshet adults. I was fortunate to attend and participate in a session with the GADOL team members and the experience gave me a lot of insight into the ways that our programming helps Keshet adults continue to live meaningful lives and create community in unexpected ways.
In preparation for the meeting, I spent a Sunday afternoon reading a biography of an iconic Chicago legend entitled Who Is Michael Jordan?, a part of a longer series of biographies that the book club has been reading for quite some time. The next day, I drove to Keshet’s GADOL program in Skokie to discuss the book with the participants, staff, and volunteers. Throughout the meeting, everyone took turns reading different passages, followed by discussion questions from the staff and volunteers about the material. Samantha, a book club participant told us that she enjoys reading as a group because it helps her focus and she learns more from other people. As I observed their discussion, this group process is what made the book club so enjoyable for me. Seeing the pride as people read and contributed to thoughtful discussions further demonstrates just how dedicated everyone is to ensuring success and being supportive of one another.
Upon leaving the book club I found myself conversing with one of Keshet’s long-standing volunteers, Myra Orlinsky, who’s been with the organization for eleven years. She helps run the GADOL book club twice a week, even when it was on Zoom during the height of the pandemic. Her mere presence helps contribute to an enthusiastic and positive atmosphere for the Keshet community, and watching her during book club was no exception. In reflecting on her time with the book club, she talks about how much the program has evolved from first simply reading the books to now creating full-on, engaging discussions, especially within the particular biography series they’ve been reading. Asking questions, drawing examples to real-life events, and utilizing video clips are just some ways book club has become more interactive. In the case of our discussion, Myra shared stories of seeing Michael Jordan play back in the ‘90s as well as asked questions to book club participants about their experiences playing sports as a kid. This is intentionally designed to encourage everyone to make connections with the information. “It’s not just reading words on a page, it’s learning about the person and how the participants can relate to them,” Myra said, and this sentiment is what has transformed book club into an essential avenue of growth for all involved.
My experience in learning about book club is just one of many examples that has allowed me to see Keshet’s mission come to life. This organization continuously supports ways to help participants of all abilities continue to learn and grow through meaningful and purposeful opportunities. Our staff, volunteers and participants work collectively to support one another and establish the community of belonging we are constantly striving for. Though book club has been a staple of adult programming for years, the group comradery, the ways the pieces push everyone to think differently, and the staff and volunteers who’ve continued shape it throughout the years are why these worthwhile discussions remain so important. I look forward to seeing all the wonderful ways that our Keshet community continues to evolve through more innovative programming in the future.