Hope Blecher
Member, Hadassah Lower New York State Chapter

Why, as a Jew, I celebrate Read Across America Day 2022

Author Hope Blecher Ed. D as The Cat In The Hat
Author Hope Blecher, Ed. D as The Cat in the Hat

Read Across America Day is a yearly celebration of reading. It’s held on March 2nd of each year. That is not a random date. That date was selected by the National Education Association, NEA, over 24 years ago.

Here’s the premise of Read Across America Day, At the time, Bob Chase, then-NEA president, said: “We are calling for every child in every school in every community to be in the company of a book on Read Across America Day, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday.” The program, he added, “provides an excellent opportunity to collaborate with parents and others in our communities to make a difference in the lives of our students.”

Who Was Dr. Seuss? Why Read Across America Day Falls on His Birthday ( Why that date? That is the birthday of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. His books may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, the enjoyment of holding a book, of being able to listen to someone read to you, of losing one’s own self in a relevant story—that is what Read Across America Day is.

Yet, I was challenged about my support of Dr. Seuss. I was told that Theodore Geisel was a military cartoonist who created propaganda. I was told that he was antisemitic in his illustrations. And so on and so on. Here’s my context for Read Across America Day, a day that has become an international celebration of reading. As a kid, I got lost in the stacks of the public library. I sat by a window, took a book and read page after page. I immersed myself in Plum Creek and the little house in the woods. I met The Little Prince, the Lorax and Laura.

As a mom, I read books to my kids. As a mom, I bought books for my kids. As a mom, I read books by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Bill Martin, Jr. and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although we didn’t eat real green eggs and ham, we enjoyed diving into the stories. We touched caterpillars, watched lunar moths and looked at the moon for Poppa to reach it for us.

We ventured through NYC with Percy Jackson and the wizarding world of Harry Potter and friends. As a teacher, I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? As a teacher, we dressed up as each of those book characters for Halloween and for Purim. As a teacher I dressed up as The Cat in the Hat. As a teacher, I read books written and illustrated by Theodore Geisel. As a literacy coach, I dressed up as The Cat in the Hat, sat in a display case and waved at children as they walked by.

As a Jewish child, I listened to someone read me the story of Jonah and the whale. As a Jewish female, I read about Sara and her whispering for a child. As a Jewish female, I read about Dinah and The Red Tent. As a white Jewish female, I read about Period. End of Sentence, not End of an Education.

With so many options of what to read, with so many choices of authors and illustrators, with the freedom to have choices, I am putting my energies into showing up. I am showing up to read to kids. I am showing up with ideas that I am sharing with those who will listen. Is that you?

Listen to a book. Touch a book. Read a book. Share a book. Embrace a book. Books are like onions. Hit the layer of that tart message. Peel back the layers for that sweet taste. Approach that book knowing you will shed a tear and cutting into it anyway. Tears of joy. Tears of laughter. Tears of a shared experience.

So why do I embrace Read Across America Day, the date that coincides with the birthday of Theodore Geisel? Because. Because he created words. Because he used simple words. Because he had fun with sounds. Because I made a choice to celebrate literacy.

You choose. Let’s get books. Let’s get audio books. Let’s get Braille books. Let’s get books with pictures. Let’s get pop-up books and board books. Let’s get books of every size and genre into the world. We, the people of the book, have a history. We, the people of the book, have a sacred duty to defend our beliefs, institutions and history, both in the U.S. and in Israel.

Hadassah, the volunteer Zionist women’s organization I am a member of, was a co-sponsor of the Never Education Act which provided resources and tools for education about the Holocaust. Hadassah Magazine features annual reading selections by members of compelling books that inspire, enlighten and inform.

We, the people of the book, know what it’s like to see books burned. We, the people of the book, know what it’s like to see books banned. We, the people of the book, know what it’s liked to be censored, blacklisted and accused. We, the people of the book, let’s celebrate literacy in all its forms. What forms of literacy are there?

That’s for another blog.

About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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