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What makes a value Jewish? There are several ways of answering that question and even in identifying the specific values considered “Jewish” but I like the clarity of Louis Jacobs’s explanation in his book, The Jewish Religion: A Companion (Oxford University Press, 1995). Jacobs writes: “Basic to all the higher religions are ideals corresponding closely to those described as Jewish. Non-religious, as well as religious, ethical thinkers have expounded the worth of humility, truth, love, and compassion. If the adjective “Jewish” is used the intention is to suggest: (a) that these values receive a special kind of emphasis in the Jewish tradition, a Jewish way of looking at them, and (b) that they are no remote ideals but are a real, vital force in the lives of Jews” (p. 574).
Teaching Jewish values is one of the primary aims of Jewish education. Librarians, teachers, parents, clergy, and other adults concerned with character development and Jewish continuity strive to instill Jewish values in young people as a way to develop ethnic and religious identity, Jewish literacy, and pride in peoplehood. Anyone fortunate enough to be familiar with both Jewish books and Jewish kids know how powerful the interaction between the two can be, how much more meaningful than learning from lectures or textbooks or computers. Becoming immersed in a story allows readers’ imaginations to soar. They are taken to other lands, other times, and into the minds and hearts of characters whom they will never encounter except through a book. The epiphanies that come with reading can’t be anticipated because they are different for every reader but when they come, they are transformative. To encounter, consider, and witness the effects of Jewish values in the pages of books, through the experiences of characters, in settings that sometimes distant and strange and sometimes familiar is to grow as a human being and as a Jew.
Marcia Posner’s serial publication called Juvenile Judaica was the Valuesfinder’s precursor and Marcia herself has been the Jewish Valuesfinder’s guiding light. When updates to Juvenile Judaica stopped being issued in 1995, librarians, teachers, parents, and other users lost an authoritative single source of information and selection guidance for children’s books of Jewish content. With more books of this type being published each year, the need became ever more pronounced. As Jewish values have become an increasingly important concept in Jewish education, both formal and informal, the responsibility to create a new guide was recognized and assumed by Dr. Posner and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), the author and publisher respectively of Juvenile Judaica. In keeping with the Valuesfinder’s purpose, the Jewish values expressed or implied in books of Jewish content for children and teens are identified in a database of individual book titles. Subject headings are also given for each title as well as descriptive and bibliographic information. The subject headings that are used are based on those of the Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries, Revised Edition (Association of Jewish Libraries, June 1999). The list of Jewish values was developed by the editor, drawing on numerous sources, both printed and those gained from the experience and advice of colleagues. Any errors or omissions in either list or in any other part of the guide are solely the responsibility of the editor. Comments, questions, or suggestions from users about any aspect of the guide are invited and may be sent to the editor (see below).
It has been almost a decade since the Valuesfinder was launched online by the Association of Jewish Libraries. First called the New Jewish Valuesfinder, it’s now time to drop the “new.” Having achieved some degree of maturity, the Valuesfinder is still the only electronic guide devoted exclusively to Jewish books for children and teens. There are about 1500 titles in its database at this writing, with many more to be added – both older titles that simply haven’t made it in yet as well as new ones. A print version of the Valuesfinder was published by Neal-Schuman in 2006. Linda Silver created and served as editor of the Valuesfinder until 2012. She is very grateful to her fellow Judaic librarians, to the Association of Jewish Libraries, and above all, to Marcia Posner. Their love of books and dedication to Jewish libraries were a constant inspiration. Taking Linda’s place as editor is Heather Lenson, librarian of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland.
The Valuesfinder is a selective guide and not every book of Jewish content is included. To be included in this guide, a book must meet the following criteria:
- It is written for children from preschool through high school. Age levels for each book are given: PS (Preschool), PRI (Kindergarten – Grade 2), ELE (Grades 3 – 5), MS (Grades 6 – 8), HS (Grades 9 – 12). The designation ADULT is given when the audience for the book includes adult family members.
- It meets recognized standards of literary and artistic quality within a range from outstanding to acceptable. Annotations will point out weaknesses in literary or artistic quality when appropriate.
- It has Jewish content exemplified by character, time, place, or theme, or it was originally written in Hebrew. The Jewish content is presented accurately, authentically, and with sensitivity to Jewish concerns.
- To be fully appreciated by children, it merits introduction by a knowledgeable librarian, teacher, or parent.
- It has potential for use in the curricula of Jewish day schools and supplementary schools in one or more denominations of North American Judaism.
- It is not a textbook.
Books of Jewish content that meet the above criteria are or will be included in the database. Most of the books are in English, but Hebrew-English or English-Yiddish works and translations from Hebrew or Yiddish into English are included as well. Picture books, fiction, non-fiction, and biography are considered for inclusion but not reference works such as encyclopedias or almanacs. If users have questions about a particular title or about any aspect of the Valuesfinder, they are invited to contact the editor. Each book entry contains the following fields: author, title, illustrator, publisher, date of publication, number of pages, ISBN, an annotation, age level(s), its Jewish values, its subjects, and if it won a Sydney Taylor Book Award. Each of the fields is searchable. The entry of books into the Valuesfinder database has been a rather slow process. The editor gives priority to newly published books that are reviewed in the AJL Newsletter and included in various AJL-sponsored bibliographies. Older titles are entered as time permits. Failing to find a title in the Valuesfinder does not necessarily mean that it was excluded; it may mean that it simply hasn’t been entered yet. When questions about the absence of specific titles arise, contact the editor.