Elana Moskowitz is an educator, artist and daughter of a rabbi and Jewish educator. So the joy of learning, creativity and Yiddishkeit runs through her blood.
“Writing and storytelling have always been a big part of our family,” says the 48-year-old Pikesville mother of five, who loves sharing with her children the resources of the Macks Center for Jewish Education Library and Resource Center. “Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors on my mother’s side and the granddaughter of proud American Jews who went through the Great Depression on my father’s side, I feel grounded when I hear stories that can be passed on to the next generation.”
Moskowitz says the CJE library — located on the second floor of the Park Heights Jewish Community Center — provides her children with the ability to explore the world of literature and other genres.
“The library has such a wide variety of books,” she says. “Jessica Fink, who is the librarian, is probably one of the most charismatic and inviting people I have met. I have never had someone take such a personal interest in my family’s reading lives. I tell her about what my kids are interested in and she gives me suggestions. My kids love everything I bring home from there.”
The CJE library was founded in the 1950s as an educators’ resource facility housed in Baltimore Hebrew University’s basement. Nineteen years ago, the library moved to its current location at the CJE, and during that time transitioned into a library for the general community.
“We still have educators’ resources, but we now have so much more,” says Fink. “We have everything from adult, young adult and children’s fiction, to nonfiction and Judaica pieces. One of the most unique parts of our library is that it’s an adult library a children’s library and a Hebrew library. Many of our books are written in English and Hebrew, so it’s a dual-language library as well.”
Since becoming the CJE librarian two-and-a-half years ago, Fink has nearly doubled book circulation, implemented a summer reading program, grown the books selection to include young adult fiction and early readers, and regularly invites local authors to give talks.
“Jessica has updated and expanded the collection, taken the library mobile so more people can be exposed to our amazing resources,” says Amian Frost Kelemer, the CJE’s chief executive officer. “Jessica worked with our lay leadership to develop a collections policy and receive accreditation from the National Association of Jewish Libraries. She has listened to the needs of our patrons and become an indispensable resource.”
A San Diego native, Fink graduated from the University of Florida with an undergraduate degree in elementary education, the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in urban education, and the Pratt Institute in Manhattan with a degree in library and information science.
When she first started at the CJE, Fink says she noticed many local Jewish day schools and preschools didn’t have librarians. She decided to partner with schools so children could check out CJE library books. Since implementing the idea of a traveling library, Fink has worked with preschools at the Park Heights JCC Park Heights, Bais Yaakov School for Girls and Beth El @ Federal Hill, to name a few.
“I would love to have library access to all Jewish day schools in the area,” says Fink, whose two children attend Beth Tfiloh Community Day School. “It just takes one book to hook children. All kids deserve a librarian to help them find the book that hooks them, so they can enjoy reading and see the amazing places books can take them.”
With a grandmother who was a librarian at St. John’s University in New York, Fink says she understands the magic of a good book. One of her favorite books to read to children is “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis, about a boy who helps out in his grandfather’s bagel shop and learns the value of giving thanks.
“I read ‘Bagels From Benny’ to kindergarten class, and they were so invested in the book that they wanted to get bagels and bring them to a homeless shelter,” Fink recalls. “The book taught them about mitzvot and giving, and made them realize how much people need and that we can all do a little to help.”
Fink has worked closely with Sol Levinson & Bros. to automate the funeral home’s library and purchase a collection of grief texts for children.
“A parent in mourning shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to explaining death and grief to children,” says Fink. “Many authors have already done that, and parents should have access to those books. At the CJE, we now have a collection of books about grief and death that we can offer to families in the community.”
Fink says she wants the CJE library to have a little bit of something for everyone. “I just love the goodness,” she says. “Even if there are hard topics, I find in today’s world that the library is a place of happiness.”
Elana Moskowitz couldn’t agree more. “Parenting today can be overwhelming and scary at times, and the CJE library is a way to come home,” she says. “It gives my children a way to escape and explore other people’s lives and other parts of the world. It expands their sensitivities to others, and reinforces pride and confidence within themselves.”