When my wife Randy and I found out we were expecting, our friends told us we must sign-up for PJ Library. With so much on our minds about becoming new parents, PJ Library was not something that was on our ‘what to do when expecting list.’ I had heard about PJ Library, but knew nothing about it. So I asked our friends, “What is PJ Library?”
“Sign up, it’s awesome,” they said. “Every month starting at age six months, your daughter will receive a book which introduces Jewish traditions through creative and innovative stories.” So we signed up.
Sure enough, when our daughter turned six months, she received her first book and has been receiving them ever since. She looks forward to her mom’s trips to the mailbox because she knows that every month she will be getting a new book. (I think her favourite has been Shabbat Shalom, Hey!)
In December 2005, philanthropist Harold Grinspoon of Western Massachusetts had a big idea: What if Jewish families with young children in North America could receive books – free of charge – to help connect them with their faith? Since then, PJ Library has grown tremendously and now mails more than 170,000 free Jewish books per month to more than 125,000 families in 200 communities. The books, aimed at children between six months and eight years old, teach kids about Jewish holidays and fables.
In Ottawa, books are mailed to 474 families, comprised of 638 children.
PJ Library has two goals. The first is to turn the home into a focal point of Jewish identity by turning bedtime into a Jewish moment. By reading a book about Shabbat, Israel or tzedakah, parents become Jewish educators, answering questions and modelling behaviours that stay with children throughout their lives. The second is to serve as an early on-ramp to lifelong Jewish journeys. My wife and I have found PJ Library books to be an excellent way to introduce the Jewish experience to our daughter in a creative and innovative approach, and I know through conversations that many other parents look forward to receiving their PJ Library books to help instil and cultivate a sense of Jewish identity in their children.
The PJ Library experience extends beyond just receiving books. Through the efforts of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, a variety of events are held where PJ Library families come together and share in experiences such as PJ Library Shabbat dinners, community seders, visits to Camp B’nai Brith, Rosh Hashanah Fair, and Sukkot Party just to name a few.
Federation also recognizes that it’s the parents of our little ones that make events such as these a success and that’s why a series of ‘PJ Library Parents Night Out’ events are organized as well, where Jewish parents get together (sans enfants) and let loose. ‘Parents Nights Out’ evenings have included such events as: a comedy night, sushi making, an evening at an escape room, and a TED Talk.
I encourage all members of the community to sign-up and support the PJ Library initiative. It is through programs such as this that parents can introduce Jewish culture and identity to their young ones through creative and innovative stories. If your children are too old, or are no longer participating in the PJ Library program, I encourage to you support the PJ Library program through your Federation donation because it is through programs such as this that we are instilling our Jewish values into the next generation of community leaders.