Across the national capital region, more than 800 children are provided with free Jewish-themed books through the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s PJ Library program.
PJ Library is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, a North American Jewish non-profit organization based in Agawam, Massachusetts. It was created in December 2005 as a Jewish engagement and literacy program for Jewish families with young children. Since its inception, the program has grown tremendously in scope and impact. As of 2022, PJ Library has mailed 50 million books, and now serves families across five continents.
In Ottawa, Sarah Beutel, Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Vice President of Community Building, has seen the program grow over time.
“It has been so exciting to see how PJ Library has taken off in Ottawa. I remember in 2014 when there were approximately 370 children receiving PJL books in our community. It is amazing that the program continues to grow and now serves over 800 children,” she said. “That represents hundreds of families who are now benefiting, and who thanks to this program, are able to bring Jewish stories, values, and traditions into their homes.”
Across North America, 43,000 children received their very first PJ Library book in 2022 — and more than 3,000 children received Spanish-language PJ books. More than 70 titles joined the PJ Library lineup, including books that celebrate immigration, Sephardic tradition, multifaith and/or multiracial families, and neurodivergent characters. Many families have shared how important it is for their children to receive a book in the mail every month and open it to see Jewish characters who are similar to them.
The very latest PJ Library survey responses (from across North America) show that 51 per cent of PJ families include a parent who did not grow up Jewish, and 31 per cent are part of a household with a parent of a different faith. Of those surveyed, 9 per cent reported having a person of colour in their household, and 35 per cent have someone who speaks a language other than English.
“We see these trends in Ottawa as well,” said Beutel. “Because of the diversity of families in our community, it is more important than ever to have stories that reflect the multi-faceted make-up of families today.”
PJ Library offers more than books. Through the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, PJ families are invited to participate in local monthly programming that brings families together to connect and celebrate Jewish holidays and customs together. Another important element of the PJ Library program are Get Together Grants, which offer a $100 incentive to families to create their own small gatherings of PJ families. In just the first three months of this year’s Get Together Grant program, 1,700 families participated across North America.
The desire for Jewish families to connect most recently was demonstrated at the PJ Library Chanukah Party, held in partnership with the Soloway Jewish Community Centre’s Ganon Preschool, which was attended by 65 families. Jewish Federation of Ottawa is also launching a new PJ Library Babies & Bagels home-based playgroup for parents with children aged 0-3, as it has been difficult for new parents to find meaningful connections since COVID.
“The wonderful thing about PJ Library is that it teaches young kids and their families about being Jewish through being in community. It is through building relationships organically that Jewish families learn about Jewish holidays, values, history, and language,” explained Emily Litvack, Federation’s Community Engagement Specialist and PJ Library Professional. “This way of learning through happy, memorable experiences and developing these strong relationships, I believe has long-lasting impacts.”
Ottawa's PJ Library program was originally funded by a local group of inspired women who were part of the Lion’s of Judah. Today it is made possible through generous donations from all sorts of people including grandparents, families who pay it forward, and donations in memory of loved ones, all who wish to ensure that our Jewish community continues and thrives, along with the support of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
To connect with the community, email Emily Litvack at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up here.