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The 21 days from November 4-25 promise to be quiet ones for Jewish children around the world who have signed up for the Kehot Book-A-Thon. With TV sets turned off, thousands of children enrolled from over 250 schools and libraries may find that reading is an experience that can rival even the excitement of their PlayStation.

Coinciding with the National Jewish Book Month, Kehot Publication Society’s Fourth Annual Book-A-Thon reading event, aims to promote Jewish literacy.

With one in four children growing up in homes with few or no Jewish books, Kehot, the publishing arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, is taking the proactive approach to promote reading.

“The Book-A-Thon is intended to help children explore the world of Jewish books and develop good reading habits while doing that,” said Kehot Director, Rabbi Yosef B. Friedman.

The Book-A-Thon crosses a vast geographical distance and age span with participants as young as 4 and as old as 84, from countries as diverse as China, Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Belgium, England, Panama, South Africa and America.

While literacy programs like Book It and Read to Feed also seek to foster good reading habits in children, Kehot adds the Judaic dimension. Modeled after the March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon, participants seek sponsors who pledge a set amount of money per book read, giving them a mental and spiritual workout. One hundred percent of the money raised is funneled back to the participants’ organization of choice in the form of Kehot book credits.

Kehot’s impetus for the Book-A-Thon comes from the idea expressed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said, “What our youth reads profoundly affects their thoughts, speech and actions, shaping and molding their character and lives. It is thus of vital importance that we provide our youth with good, wholesome reading materials, based on goodness and holiness.”

With the American child watching an average of 28 hours of television a week, internet games, music and sports competing for time, reading is at the bottom of the list when it comes to recreational activities.

In previous years, the Kehot Book-A-Thon generated a surge of interest in recreational reading. Froma Fallik, a school librarian, was delighted: “This is a wonderful project. The books we have received are circulating and I look forward to continuing to work with you in spreading Jewish literacy.”

For 9 year old Calil Goodman, living in Agora Hills, CA, the 38 books he read for the Book-A-Thon opened a new world. “I have to read every day for homework,” he said, “but this is the first time I read so many Jewish books. I like reading the Jewish books because it tells me about all the tzadikim (righteous people) that came before me.”

The children’s incentive may be the fantastic array of prizes ranging from the high tech gadgets, books and CD’s offered by Kehot, but the real rewards come as they discover the rich world of reading and enhance their Jewish knowledge.

Parents are grateful for the Book-A-Thon: “How wonderful it is to watch my daughters want to read Jewish books to themselves, and each other, they had so much fun doing this, they wanted to keep on reading!”  wrote C. Major, a parent from Boulder, CO, whose 5 daughters collectively read 87 books last year.

The Book-A-Thon was a first exposure to Jewish reading for many students in the Conejo Day School in California. When they joined the Book-A-Thon two years ago, their library was sparsely stocked.

“We purchased over 200 books through the Book-A-Thon in past years. The library’s growth has been exponential because the more books there are available to read, the more income the students can generate during the Book-A-Thon,” said Rabbi Eli Broner, school principal.

“Our goal is to have enough books so that all the students can take out books simultaneously, and eventually open our library to the community at large.”

Generating excitement for the Book-A-Thon is effortless for teachers and principals. With the comprehensive website www.Bookathon.org designed by Kehot. Registration, ads, flyers, posters, sponsor sheets and prize catalogues are all free and available to download for participating schools and libraries.

Judging from past years, Kehot is expects an enthusiastic response to the Book-A-Thon.

“Over a period of three weeks, the dedicated activity of thousands of readers and sponsors from around the globe will have significant positive ramifications for Jewish identity,” said Kehot Book-A-Thon project coordinator, Mrs. Chaya Franklin.

“We are using the medium of reading to explore the depth and importance of our written heritage. The Book-A-Thon is a powerful way to accomplish this goal.”

With 7,344 Jewish books read to date, and an estimated 10,000 more to be read in the coming weeks, Kehot sees its Book-A-Thon as instrumental in combating Jewish illiteracy and influencing a new generation of little “People of the Book.”

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