Rabbis Without Borders
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Late December brings with it winter break for me and my spouse, and two of my three children: no classes, no homework, no grading students’ papers. Hanukkah is behind us and the box filled with decorations and dreidels is packed away. From the time the children were young, we celebrated New Year’s Eve at home. Now they’re grown, and my ritual of falling asleep by 9:30 pm, only to be awakened by fireworks at midnight, is well established.
There is little about the arrival of January that feels compelling to me. I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions; my focus on Heshbon Hanefesh and Teshuvah is built into the observance of the Jewish new year, as well as the daily liturgy. As a high school teacher and parent, the academic calendar–together with the Jewish holiday calendar–shapes the rhythm of the days, weeks and months of my life.
But there is one reason I look forward to the final days of December every year: The POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.
I first took the challenge in 2015 because of my daughter, then a high school sophomore, who invited me to do it with her. We spent the better part of winter break planning what we would read, by searching Goodreads lists to find books in obscure categories like “A book written by an author with your same initials.” One year later, I found myself scrambling to complete a few books in genres that are not my favorite even as I was planning what I would read in 2016.
In the fall semester of 2016, with my daughter away at college, I consulted The Weber School librarian for recommendations and discovered that she was also immersed in completing the challenge. This year, I needed help from both of them to find a steampunk novel, which I started and abandoned twice before finally finishing it and checking the box during Thanksgiving weekend.
Between my professional reading–many Jewish books and articles about education–and required reading for a book club that meets during the academic year, I face another challenge: finding time to read for pleasure. Long Shabbat afternoons during summer vacation seem the only time I can devour entire books in one sitting. On the short days of winter break, my daughter and I discuss whether it’s necessary to fulfill every category or sufficient to have read 54 books in 52 weeks.
The POPSUGAR 2018 challenge includes 40 book prompts designed, according to their description, to broaden my reading scope. I eagerly anticipate discovering a new author or reading a classic I missed in my youth. I look forward to browsing the local library shelves for “A book with an ugly cover” and “A book by a local author.”
I spend this last week in December consulting with my adult daughter about what she’s reading now–choosing my first book of the new year–and grateful for the opportunity to connect with her over our shared passion for reading.