Before I became the Program Coordinator for PJ Library, I thought it was all about the books. Who could argue with the vision of founder Harold Grinspoon who said that “Its (PJ Library’s) power lies in the experience of a parent reading a Jewish bedtime story to a young child…parents are inspired as they explore Jewish identity and heritage.”
But as I ventured into the heart of PJ Library and began the work of engaging Jewish families, many of whom are on the periphery of Jewish life in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the words of my teacher and friend, Dr. Ron Wolfson, penned in his revolutionary book “Relational Judaism,” struck a chord. He said, “What really matters is that we care about the people we seek to engage. When we genuinely care about people, we will not only welcome them; we will listen to their stories, we will share ours and we will join together to build a Jewish community that enriches our lives.” This sentiment, along with those of Harold Grinspoon, are the backbone of this unique program and serve as a constant guide for the work we do in our community.
In addition to receiving age-appropriate, quality books each month for their children, our families have the opportunity to attend PJ Library events several times each year which connect them to the community-at-large. Our programs help families build relationships with others who share common interests and aspirations. Our goal is to make sure our families know we care about them on a personal level and that we seek to bring them programs that will meet them where they are. Gan Katan, a bi-monthly Shabbat play group created for young families with infants and toddlers, is celebrating year two of its existence and is a prime example of how PJ Library reaches out to people where they live. It draws them into a caring community, in a Jewish setting where they can meet and interact and learn with others in a totally non-judgmental place.
So as you can hopefully see, it’s certainly not just about the books. PJ Library is about people, their stories and connections. Our work is about creating opportunities for all of this to blend together to create community. It took many years for PJ Library to become a reality here in our extended neighborhood, and it is now a bright light in the Jewish Federation’s galaxy of quality programs and services. To learn more about PJ Library and our newest offering PJ Our Way, please go to www.pjlibrary.org or feel free to contact us at the Jewish Federation. We look forward to sharing more about our work with PJ Library in future issues.
Debby Singer, is the PJ Library Program Coordinator and a contributing writer to Kiddish magazine.