On May 30, Harold Grinspoon rang the doorbell of the Goldstein family in Livingston and handed Jordana, five, a copy of Noah’s Swim-a-Thon as her parents, Cindy and Neil, and her eight-year-old brother, Ryan, looked on.
The white-haired Grinspoon, a real estate mogul and philanthropist from western Massachusetts, is not usually in the delivery business. But last month’s visit to MetroWest marked the three millionth book given away by PJ Library, the Jewish family outreach program that he founded in December 2005.
PJ Library, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in partnership with local Jewish communities, provides free monthly mailings of Jewish-themed books and CDs to Jewish families, preschools, and camps.
Close to 2,600 families participate locally, where PJ Library was introduced in 2008. It is run through the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life and underwritten by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. The area is one of 178 communities participating in the PJ Library program around the country.
“We were thrilled to get the phone call telling us someone in our community would get this honor,” said Joan Bronspiegel Dickman, the Partnership’s director of early childhood and family engagement. Her team chose the Goldstein family randomly from those who come regularly to PJ Library programs, like reading circles and workshops.
“We’re so excited, Jordana in particular,” Cindy told NJJN as her house filled up with program funders, organizers, and even Ann Kofksy, the author and illustrator of Noah’s Swim-a-Thon. “We loved PJ Library with Ryan, and when he aged out we continued with Jordana. It’s such a special thing.
“We’re fairly connected to Judaism and the community,” she said, adding that the family has belonged to Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell for four years, “and we’re shul-goers, but these are not the kind of books we would have sought out. We love how they combine our bedtime rituals with the Jewish calendar and the rhythms of Jewish life.”
Also on hand to witness the milestone were national PJ Library director Marcie Greenfield Simons, UJC MetroWest executive vice president Max Kleinman, Partnership director Robert Lichtman, and local PJ Library funder Paula Gottesman. A host of professionals from the organizations and Agudath Israel welcomed Grinspoon to the area and thanked him for his support.
Greenfield Simons stood with Jordana and her mom in the doorway and handed the girl a package of goodies, including a PJ Library T-shirt and a Noah’s Swim-a-Thon poster. She then guided her to the sofa in the living room, where they were joined by Grinspoon. Snuggled in together, Greenfield Simons read the book to Jordana.
The Goldstein children had a few questions for author Kofsky: What inspired her to write this particular book? How did she do the illustrations? How long did they take?
They also had a question or two for Grinspoon, like whether or not he likes summer camp, and what teams he roots for. (The Celtics, he told them.)
It didn’t take long for Jordana and Grinspoon to wander over to the coffee table where a pile of PJ Library books were stacked. As Grinspoon poked through the books with a smile on his face, Jordana was busy pointing out her favorites.
Kofsky remembered her reaction when she was told her book, about a boy at Jewish summer camp, would be part of the ceremony. “I did a little dance,” she told NJJN. She traveled from Long Island and donned a lifeguard T-shirt and whistle for the occasion, saying she works at the waterfront at a summer camp.
Asked how the MetroWest community was selected for the honor, Greenfield Simons said, “Because it’s a great PJ Library community. You have embraced the program with a fantastic engagement that takes families beyond the books.”
She added: “You understand the value of PJ as a portal to reach families and build communities.”