Seventeen years ago, Harold Grinspoon’s vision of PJ Library began to take hold and today over 670 thousand children in thirty-six countries are the recipients of his forward-thinking desire to strengthen the bonds of Judaism in families one book at a time. A visionary and a philanthropist, Grinspoon at the age of ninety plus, is still a hands-on participant in the work of PJ Library and his daughter-in-law Winnie Sandler Grinspoon sits at the President’s desk.
We were very fortunate to have had a visit from Winnie to our community a few weeks ago. Her enthusiasm and deep commitment to PJ Library run parallel to Harold’s and her desire to build on PJ’s successes are boundless and in fact extend far beyond the limits of earth and have now been launched into outer space! The very first Storytime in Space featured a PJ Library Book courtesy of the program’s counterpart in Israel called Sifriyat Pijama and the Ramon Foundation. The second Israeli in space, read the book A Beautiful World in Hebrew from the International Space Station to school children all across Israel. You can click here to hear this beautiful story read in Hebrew with English captions.
And right here on planet earth PJ Library’s amazing story continues. From the Ukraine,to Mentone California families connect with their Judaism by reading stories together. Almost 2800 families in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and more are reading PJ Library books in their own language. To date some 50 million books have been distributed by PJ Library.
And right here on our own turf we provide a sense of connection for families on the outskirts of our Monrovia hub which include Lake Arrowhead, Norco, Jurupa Valley, Beaumont, Menefee, Murrieta and Lake Elsinore to name a few. To focus in even closer to home we are sending almost 1300 books each month to children ages 0-9 and some 200 more to the tweens ages 9-12. Our growth in numbers was rewarded recently when we won the Refer-A-Friend competition with seven other PJ Library communities including the Bay Area, San Diego, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Orange County and Phoenix. The challenge was to increase our enrollment by 5% and we surpassed that goal by reaching 8%. So much to be proud of!
In the past few months, strictly adhering to Pandemic protocols, we engaged with our families via home kits which arrived in the mail full of supplies to celebrate Tu B’Shvat and Passover. Right before the holiday marking the Birthday of the Trees which coincided with Martin Luther King Day this year, nature journals, magnifying glasses, binoculars, flower seeds and more accompanied a comprehensive guide loaded with ideas about how to be “mitzvah doers” and help repair the world. For Passover, participants registered to do the Great Matzah Bakeoff in their personalized PJ Library chef’s hats which we gifted to those brave bakers. And in between we celebrated Purim with our first ever Story Walk in Library Park on a sunny Sunday morning. Families followed a trail through the pages of the book doing special activities at each site. At this event, our families assembled over 100 Care Bags containing masks, granola bars, hand sanitizer, sunscreens, lip balm and more for the unhoused folks receiving services from Friends In Deed, a local non-profit which helps the most vulnerable in our community.
And best news of all is that our Gan Katan class came back to life in person. The Los Angeles County Arboretum was our destination for our first un-Zoom gathering in over 2 years. We trekked through the beautiful surroundings becoming nature explorers and then gathered together for a mini-Shabbat celebration and snacks after our walk. Our second Gan meet up was at Library Park where we welcomed a whole new group of babies who will be part of another cohort of families doing Jewish together while forming a caring community of their own.
In the world of uncertainty, we now inhabit, PJ Library’s newly modified mission is to be on the forefront of combatting anti-semitism while strengthening the bonds of pride in being Jewish for families world-wide. On a local level we strive to accomplish these goals by providing our families with barrier free ways to engage with other families and by providing them with the tools and knowledge to create a Jewish environment for their children. The books which are delivered monthly without fail, are just the start. They tell the stories of our people, our values, our history, our families, our culture and much more. They help us frame the stories of our own lives. Sharing these stories, our stories, is what brings us together as a community and makes us stronger. Our hope is that in the coming months we will have the opportunity to meet more of our families, in person, to learn and play together and to share the stories of our lives.
Debby Singer is a PJ Library Program Director and a contributing writer to Kiddish magazine.