A modest experiment by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey in supplying Jewish-themed books and music to young children is paying off, organizers say.
Launched locally in 2007, when it enrolled some 200 children between the ages of six months and seven years, the PJ Library now has around 440 subscribers. What’s more, said Linda Poleyeff, the federation’s director of Jewish education, those families are demonstrating a deeper sense of Jewish identity and connection to local Jewish institutions.
The PJ Library, a partnership between the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local federations, sends participants carefully chosen age-appropriate material each month. The six-year-old program sends out 76,000 books a month to children in 135 communities across North America.
Ethan Weinberg, seven, and his sister, Zoe, four, who live in Westfield, have been receiving PJ Library materials for two years now. “They are thrilled to get new books in the mail each month and can’t wait to read them when they arrive,” said their mother, Amy. “The CDs for Hanukka are an extra special treat, and we listen to them all year.”
She said she decided to sign them up for the program because having a strong Jewish identity is important to her, and she wanted to be able to pass that along to her children.
“The major advantage of the PJ library is that it has provided us with books that I would have never purchased or read otherwise — because I didn’t know about them and because I felt we already had enough books,” said Amy.
Her friends, the Abrams family, live in Scotch Plains and also participate in the program.
“As a librarian and mother of two PJ Library recipients, I continue to marvel at the quality of the selections,” said Debbie Abrams. “These are not your bubbe’s Jewish children’s books. With lovely stories and fresh, beautiful illustrations, these stories are clearly carefully chosen to reflect the diversity of Jewish life today.
“My children just love to get a package in the mail each month and immediately rip them open and ask to hear them. Sometimes I feel like a PJ Library evangelist — I just can’t believe more parents don’t ask to receive these books. What’s to lose?”
‘Part of the community’
The program has another purpose in addition to fostering Jewish identity. As Poleyeff pointed out, the federation values it as a way to connect with families who might otherwise not be aware of its activities and the part federation could play in their lives.
“We have started sending material on our other programs to the families, so they can see what we do,” she said.
Indeed, Abrams told NJJN, “I was not involved in federation before, though my kids do attend preschool and camp at the JCC. Having PJ Library books offered here in our community makes me feel that our federation is really part of the larger American-Jewish community and is striving to bring our community the best programs offered at a national level.”
Being part of the program has also opened up other ways to strengthen connections. The participating families were invited to attend a concert on July 7 where Jewish musicians Peter and Ellen Allard performed. About 60 people — parents and their young children — gathered, all seated on the floor in front of the Allards, chatting and singing along.
Poleyeff was delighted. Outreach and community building are among the primary goals of the federation’s current strategic plan, and seeing those people getting to know each other, she said, was wonderful. There and then, she signed on another few families to receive the library materials.
For information on participating in the PJ Library program, contact Poleyeff at email@example.com or 908-288-2415.