At a time when traditional congregations are struggling to attract families with young children to Shabbat services, Lappin Foundation seems to have discovered a silver bullet: PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat. Over the past 18 months, attendance at Shabbat services by families with young children has exploded on the North Shore, thanks to the Foundation’s PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat in partnership with area temples and JCCNS and NSJCC.
Attendance at either Shabbat evening or Shabbat morning since the fall has totaled more than 300 children, parents and grandparents. The key to success is a simple recipe: a short, interactive Shabbat experience, on the floor, filled with singing, movement, a story and some prayers, accentuated with drums, maracas and sometimes guitar music. And of course, a no-frills, child-inspired meal, all free of charge.
“Parents and grandparents of families with young children truly appreciate our efforts,” said Robert Lappin, the Foundation’s president. “Parents tell us that PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat make it easy and affordable for busy parents to participate in an authentic Shabbat experience that is warm and welcoming and that meets particular needs of very young children,” he added. Parents are excited to meet other PJ Library families, and it is heartwarming to see friendships forming.
Families have three choices of Friday early evening services, dinner included: PJ Library Shabbat Shalom Circle, in partnership with Temple Ner Tamid and NSJCC in Peabody; PJ Library Tot Shabbat, in partnership with Temple Sinai and the JCCNS; and PJ Library Tot Shabbat with Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham as the co-partner. Families seeking a Shabbat morning experience are welcome to attend PJ Library Shabbat Circle, hosted at Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester once a month. The 10:30 a.m. Shabbat Circle is followed by refreshments with the congregation.
Phoebe Potts, Director of Family Learning of the Sylvia Cohen Religious School of Temple Ahavat Achim and PJ Library mother, said that PJ Library Shabbat Circle “gives our littlest members a chance to experience the joy of the day with friends their age in a happy, safe, engaging Jewish context,” adding that “the Torah parade is Jewish Joy realized!”
Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez of Temple Sinai, a PJ Library Tot Shabbat partner with the JCCNS, remarked that “Shabbat has brought new life to our synagogue and the whole community. When the Temple is full of kids singing, playing, running around, the Divine Presence flows more energetically, Judaism becomes more alive and hopeful.”
Some families make the rounds to various PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat within the same month, providing added value to temples. Meeting different rabbis and being in various temples provides families the opportunity to “try out” a temple years ahead of when they are likely to join.
In addition to Temple Ahavat Achim, Temple B’nai Abraham, Temple Ner Tamid and Temple Sinai, JCCNS and NSJCC are also valuable partners of PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat, serving as host sites and valuable funding and program partners. “It’s important to introduce families to our JCCs, which contribute to the vitality of our Jewish community,” said Lappin, adding that families feel welcome at both JCCs, and they get to see JCC staff and values in action.
PJ Library, the free Jewish book-and-music-of-the-month-club for Jewish children, ages six months to eight years, is a phenomenon locally and internationally. Lappin Foundation is the local funder of PJ Library, with generous financial support from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, CJP and Cohen Hillel Academy. Every month throughout the year, more than 600 North Shore Jewish children receive an age appropriate Jewish book or musical CD in the mail.
PJ Library has grown to include more than 155,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada, and is available in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay and Russia. Israel is home to PJ Library’s sister program Sifriyat Pijama, which distributes books in Hebrew through preschools and daycare centers to more than 340,000 children living in Israel.
For more information about PJ Library Shabbat Circles and Tot Shabbat, or about enrolling in PJ Library, parents can visit lappinfoundation.org or contact Phyllis Osher at 978-740-4404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.