One Book

Sometimes the best way to bring people together is to find a common denominator. That’s the idea behind “One Book, One Jewish Community,” a project organized through the Jewish Outreach Partnership of Greater Philadelphia. The goal of the program is to bring people in the Philadelphia area together through shared conversations and discussions about a book’s themes and how they are relevant to today’s Jewish community. The program is now in its third year.

“One Book” is a great low-barrier way to connect everyone, no matter what their background or level of Jewish education, to the larger Jewish community. All you need is to buy the book – which is usually discounted for those participating – or find it in a library and then read it on your own schedule.

Right now the program is only in Philadelphia, but I wonder what it would look like if it expanded nationwide – or worldwide. Imagine Jewish communities across the globe reading and discussing one book about Jewish life, perhaps sharing thoughts with neighboring communities via webchats, conference calls or listserves. Maybe that’s a ways down the road, but in the meantime the project is an opportunity for local organizations to serve as a gateway for increased participation in Jewish life.


  1. How does such a group avoid replacing the goal of community-building with the goal of marketing the books of its preferred authors?

    Who chooses the book and how does that affect who participates in the group?

    Comment by Sara — June 7, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  2. Great questions, Sara.

    One Book, One Jewish Community selects one book annually, and the book is selected by an Implementation Team (IT). The IT is made up of representatives from across the Philadelphia Jewish community and includes rabbis, lay leaders, and Jewish communal professionals representing all streams of Judaism. Each year, IT members read, review and discuss many dozens of books before reaching consensus on one book.

    Many criteria are considered when choosing the book, not limited to but including the following: Will the book appeal to men and women? Does it have abundant Jewish themes? Will it stimulate Jewish conversations throughout the community? Does it celebrate Judaism?

    Any synagogue, organization or museum, Jewish or otherwise, can become an OBOJC Program Partner. The main requirement of partnership is that the partner agrees to do something that relates to the book. A partner can have a small discussion or a weekend long shabbaton. You can see a list of our 2008-2009 partners on the OBOJC web site

    We give one copy of the featured book to each partnering group and make additional copies available for purchase at a deeply discounted rate. Additionally, we donate copies of the book to libraries throughout the region. Our goal is not to market the book per se but, rather, to do whatever it takes to facilitate access to the book.

    All of our partners receive a Companion Resource Guide which we develop, in-house, to make it as easy as possible for partners to plan their book activities. Among other things, the guide includes book discussion questions, names of local speakers who are available to speak about themes in the book, specifically Jewish and/or historical background information to aid one’s understanding of the book, a listing of thematically-related books for children and youth (so families can read and discuss book ideas together).

    I would be happy to provide any additional information about One Book, One Jewish Community for you.

    Comment by Debbie Leon — June 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

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