For those who like backstory: My story and interview ideas often come from friends, family or random readers. Geography is irrelevant in the cyber-age. This story is a good case in point. I live in Skokie, a Chicago suburb. I learned about The PJ Library early this fall through someone in my water aerobics class. Her daughter is the Boston-based publicist for the project. Then, when I was volunteering in New Orleans last month, I spent a few hours wandering around the exhibition hall at the GA [General Assembly- a gathering of Jewish professionals and laypeople]. There was a booth for The PJ Library; we talked and exchanged cards. A few days later, upon my return to Chicago, I discovered that my dear friend and scrabble partner Linda Hoffenberg [who lives a few blocks from me] was soon to fly to Springfield, MA to be honored as Development Professional of the Year by the Grinspoon Institute. The Institute is part of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which also sponsors The PJ Library.
I had never even heard of this whole operation just a few months before and suddenly there were all these connections and coincidences! So, I'm delighted to chat with Marcie Greenfield Simons, Director of The PJ Library. Harold Grinspoon, founder, appears later in the interview. Look out for him!
Welcome to OpEdNews, Marcie. You come to The PJ Library with a strong background in Jewish education. In fact, you founded Sinai Academy, the only Jewish day school in the Berkshires. What was it about the PJ Library that hooked you?
It was hard to pull me out of the
classroom, that's for sure. Mr.
Grinspoon had invited me to join the Harold Grinspoon Foundation previously,
but it was not until The PJ Library came along that my interest was really
piqued. At the very core of this
program were Jewish children's books, and a mission of building Jewish identity
and Jewish community. All of this
resonated with me.
The PJ Library was launched in 2005 and, in just a few years, has already been tremendously successful. How do you explain the appeal?
The PJ Library reaches families at a
very special time of their lives the birth or adoption of a child, or during
the very early years of childrearing.
Parents at this stage are looking for meaning, and often for
spirituality. When parents holds a
young child in their arms, often they are thinking about their heritage, and
simultaneously wondering what legacy they will pass on to the next
generation. All of this is part of
the appeal of The PJ Library. In addition,
it's a simple program families sign up and, almost magically, beautiful and
meaningful books appear in their mailboxes every month. It doesn't get much easier than that.
What's the basic premise behind The PJ Library?
The PJ Library strives to deepen identities of Jewish families and strengthen their relationships to local Jewish community by providing free books and CDs to families raising Jewish children ages six months through eight years. Each PJ Library selection comes with a reading guide, which explains basic Jewish concepts of the story and offers suggestions for activities/conversation starters to enhance the parent-child reading experience. In addition, HGF [Harold Grinspoon Foundation] subsidizes the salary of community program professionals who work with their local PJ families in the areas of outreach, recruitment, and programming that connects them to Jewish life.
We know from national survey results that 75% of PJ families are reading PJ books at least once a week and 76% of families report that the books spur conversations of Jewish content between members in the household. We believe these conversations help build a foundation that will impact families' Jewish choices both inside and beyond the home.