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Global children’s book program helps North Shore parents pass Jewish values, beliefs, onto their children

Lior and Jonah Spiewak, of Marblehead.

JULY 13, 2017 – SALEM – A Jewish children’s book program is helping to preserve the richness and vibrancy of Jewish culture, one book at a time.

Like families across the US and Canada, North Shore families who participate in PJ Library say the program has influenced or supported how they talk about and practice Jewish traditions in their home. 100 percent of local families say PJ Library helps them have conversations about Jewish traditions, values, and customs with their children.

PJ Library, the flagship program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, delivers more than 170,000 free Jewish children’s books and music CDs each month, including to 432 families who live in, or who are affiliated with a Jewish organization in any of 23 communities on the North Shore. Books are sent to children ages 6 months through 8 years, with each subscriber receiving a title carefully selected for high-quality content and age-level appropriateness.

“PJ Library has proven to be an excellent connector to the Jewish community for Jewish and interfaith families with young children,” said Robert I. Lappin, president of the Lappin Foundation, which partners with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to ensure children on the North Shore receive PJ Library books as a part of the program. “What better way to roll out the welcome mat than with the gift of free Jewish books.”

A newly released survey measuring the impact of PJ Library finds that the program plays an important role in the lives of Jewish families regardless of background. However, it is also more likely to influence interfaith families than inmarried families when it comes to celebrating Jewish holidays and learning more about Judaism.

Across the US and Canada, the majority of interfaith families who participate in PJ Library say the program has not only spurred them to celebrate Jewish holidays (64 percent) and Shabbat (58 percent), but also encouraged them to learn more about Judaism (89 percent) and cook traditional Jewish food (66 percent). In the North Shore region, 91 percent of interfaith families who participate in PJ Library say the program has increased their confidence to engage their children around Jewish traditions, values, and customs.

“Working to preserve a strong Jewish community for future generations is at the heart of everything we do at the foundation and through PJ Library,” said Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library. “Books are a natural way to invite people into a global community and to pass values and traditions onto the next generation, ensuring our children and their children grow up connected to their Jewish heritage.”

On the North Shore, 33 percent of families who responded to the PJ Library’s Triennial Family Survey are interfaith families, while 19 percent have a family member who is Jewish by choice, according to the survey that was conducted in December. Across the US and Canada, approximately one-quarter of families participating in PJ Library (28 percent) identify as interfaith, while one in six (16 percent) has a family member who is Jewish by choice.

Rebecca Spiewak of Marblehead, who has two sons ages 2 and 3, said her boys have the privilege of receiving a monthly book from PJ library. “They love learning about the Jewish holidays and traditions, and I love that PJ library is a part of that excitement!” exclaimed Spiewak.

PJ Library also provides participants the opportunity to connect with other families in their community through events for younger children. On the North Shore, 76 percent of PJ Library families surveyed attended events for Jewish families with young children hosted by PJ Library or another organization in the past year. The events, which families say they usually attended a few times a year, included chances to socialize and participate in arts and crafts, cooking, or book readings. Eighty percent of the parents who went to these events say they connected socially with other adults they met.

Rabbi Alison Adler of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly praised PJ Library programming for bringing families into the temple.

“We have enjoyed a series of lively PJ Library Tot Shabbat and holiday celebrations this year, with very high attendance,” explained Rabbi Adler. One of the best parts has been seeing parents building friendships, in addition to singing and dancing and learning with their children, she said.

In addition to creating connections between families, PJ Library is fostering communal ties, with 75 percent of all participating families on the North Shore saying the program has made them interested in getting more connected to local Jewish activities, organizations, and/or people.

“We take seriously that each night parents are inviting us to join their family during one of the day’s most treasured moments before bedtime,” said Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, president of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. “We take our cues from parents to make sure we provide books worthy of that special family time. Parents have told us that the PJ Library books their families receive each month not only help them feel more capable of raising Jewish children, but also make them more excited to pass on the traditions and beliefs they cherished in their own childhoods or have come to cherish as adults.”

To ensure parents feel equipped to talk with their children about Jewish values and traditions, PJ Library includes information for parents on the inside flap of each book, suggests tips and resources for parents on its blog, and gives parents the opportunity to choose their own book each year. Ninety-seven percent of North Shore families who participate in PJ Library say the program is a valuable parenting tool, and 96 percent say it has helped them think about the kind of Jewish practice they want to have in their home.

Since its founding in western Massachusetts in 2005, PJ Library has rapidly grown to send more than 170,000 free Jewish books per month to more than 125,000 families living in 200 communities across the US and Canada. Combined, PJ Library and its sister program, Sifriyat Pijama in Israel, deliver more than 540,000 free books each month to young children in 13 countries, and PJ Library recently expanded its offerings to provide books to older children ages 8-1/2 to 11 in the US through the PJ Our Way program.

The 2016 Triennial Family Study, conducted in partnership with the external evaluation firm Informing Change, consisted of an online survey and had a 20 percent response rate with 25,270 responses. Forty-five families participated in additional telephone interviews.

The Lappin Foundation, whose mission is enhancing Jewish identity across generations, funds more than 225 Jewish programs, classes, services and events every year for the Jewish and interfaith communities of the North Shore.

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