Shaare Torah Early Childhood Center turned anger over a book banning in Florida into a celebration of the preschool’s diversity last week.
A censored book, “Chik Chak Shabbat,” was read, discussed, turned into a play and woven into a Shabbat experience for the tots and their families. Parents were invited to bring potluck dishes representing their own ethnic backgrounds.
“Chik Chak Shabbat” was written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Krysten Brooker and published in 2014. It is one of 176 books featuring characters that represent different ethnicities, religions, gender and sexual orientations that were banned from public school libraries in Duval County, Fla.
“From what I read, the only reason it was banned is because it promotes diversity,” said Allison Colker, director of early childhood education and engagement at Shaare Torah, a Conservative synagogue in Gaithersburg. “It is a lovely book about multicultural neighbors in an apartment building sharing food from their different cultures to celebrate Shabbat.”
Book bans have dramatically risen in recent years. Backed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida has become an epicenter for the trend.
“Chik Chak Shabbat” is one of the children’s books that PJ Library sends free to Jewish families and preschools. The books celebrate Jewish values and culture.
Kimberly Levy, mother of 3 ½- year-old Mikhaela, brought a spicy mapo tofu dish to the dinner which represented her Chinese heritage. “The fact that the book was banned in Florida, it was a great way to express the diversity considering Gaithersburg is one of the more diverse places in America,” she said.
A WalletHub report ranked Gaithersburg as the most diverse city in the United States. Rabbis Annie Lewis and Yosef Goldman led the Friday service and prepared some Shabbat songs from different cultures including Yiddish, Ladino and an Arabic song from Tunisia.
Congregant Ryan Spiegel, a Gaithersburg City Council member, spoke to the children about the importance of being kind to all people regardless of their background and that children should be allowed to read books that parents and teachers recommend.
The participants gathered outside for international foods and lawn games.
“We had the inside and outside decorated with flags and it was a really special event where we had the opportunity to live our Jewish values,” Colker said. “Florida was saying that we really don’t want our children to embrace diversity and people of different cultures, backgrounds, races and religions. Well, we said, we don’t believe in banning books. We don’t believe in racism and xenophobia and antisemitism.”
The grownups discussed the book ban with the children. “Sometimes grownups, who are in charge of making the rules in our country, have bad ideas and they make rules that are not good ideas,” said Colker, recalling what was said. “So, we’re going to read these wonderful books that some grownups made a mistake and said not to read.”
The event was well received, Colker said. “We have a lot of families in our school who are not Jewish and the reception from all the families was wonderful. We were teaching our kids how to act out our shared values that we have with our families.” ■