On a hot and not so lazy Sunday afternoon last year in June, the sounds of laughter and music filled the air at Centrepointe Park. The smell of hot dogs on the barbecue wafted throughout the park as toddlers ran from the swings to the play structure with their parents in tow. This would be a typical Ottawa summer day at the park, if not for one small exception: the more than 200 children and parents were all from Ottawa’s vibrant Jewish community and were brought together through the efforts of PJ Library.
PJ Library was established by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation working with local partners and was brought to Ottawa in 2011 by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. PJ Library connects the love of reading with love for Jewish culture and knowledge of our rich heritage. More than 425 children between the ages of six months and six and a half years in Ottawa receive quality books each month thanks to generous donations by a local group of leading philanthropic families. At the most precious time of the day, PJ Library books bring busy parents and attentive children together at bedtime to share in their Judaism.
About a year-and-a-half ago, we had the idea of bringing PJ Library out of people’s homes and into the community. Thanks to the leadership of the Federation’s Emerging Generation division, a grassroots committee was formed to capitalize on PJ Library’s unique ability to engage the key demographic of young parents and their toddlers. Our committee reflects the diversity of Ottawa’s Jewish community, and we have organized 15 events, including one almost every month since the success of PJ Library in Centrepointe Park last year.
From a Tel Aviv-themed pool party at the Soloway JCC to a special day at Camp B’nai Brith and from a Tu B’Shevat extravaganza at Temple Israel to a to Simchat Torah party at Machzikei Hadas, our events are designed to be fun, relate to Jewish tradition or Israeli culture, and collaborate with the entire spectrum of Ottawa-based Jewish institutions. Our success is thanks to the great assistance and enthusiasm we have received from our community partners. We know our events are sometimes the first time many families, especially those who are new to Ottawa, get an opportunity to visit some of our city’s institutions and see what they have to offer.
One of the more exciting initiatives we have organized has been night-outs for moms and dads. These events, held at local bars and establishments, allowed fathers and mothers to get to know each other and enjoy some time together. They were so successful we decided to organize a party for both parents. The first Parents’ Night Out was so much fun that people left the event eager to know when the next one would be held.
We know we are only scratching the surface. Our committee is growing so that we can connect to as many elements of our community as possible. We know we are on to something special – the private act of reading to your child can also become a community bonding exercise. Our stats prove that young parents want to bring their families to our events and our community partners are eager to collaborate. If you have any suggestions or want to partner with us on a future event, please contact Ariel Fainer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4696, ext. 240.
PJ Library by the numbers
Established in Ottawa – May 2011; Total children served – 763; Total families served – 558; Total children currently enrolled – 426 (highest enrolment to date); Total events since September 2014 – 15; Total event attendance – 1,594; Parent-only events – 3; Parent-only event attendance – 92; Total books received in Ottawa – 19,426.