PJ Library is having an amazing impact upon Jewish and interfaith families across the Mid-South. The Jewish children’s book program is helping to preserve the richness and vibrancy of Jewish culture, one book at a time. Most Mid-South PJ Library families say the books help them have conversations about Jewish traditions, values and customs with their children.
“Our 8-year-old twins have been receiving books and other fun items from PJ Library since they were six months old,” said Joe Pierce. “They are a part of our family’s library of children’s books. Our kids love them.”
PJ Library sends books and CDs to more than 300 children in the Memphis area thanks to a gift from the Billie and Joe Pierce Family and by donors’ gifts to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Annual Community Campaign, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Every month, children ages six months through eight years receive a book carefully selected for high-quality content and age-level appropriateness.
“PJ Library provides an organic segue into Jewish conversations between children and their parents, grandparents or whoever is reading with that child,” said Billie Pierce. “Whether the book is a timely tale about Rosh Hashanah, a fun story inspiring kids to create their own tzedakah box, or a CD of Jewish songs to sing along with in the car, PJ Library fills a void and a need for the relaxed dialogue that occurs upon finishing a book or listening to a fun song. PJ Library demonstrates how to live a Jewish life without preaching to kids.”
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’s more likely to influence interfaith families than in-married families when it comes to celebrating Jewish holidays and learning more about Judaism.
“Memphis is famous for our tight-knit Jewish community, but the reality is each family’s level of engagement in Judaism is different,” said Laura Linder, President and CEO of Jewish Community Partners, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Memphis partner in the PJ Library program. “Getting these books and CDs in the mail every month connects families to their culture, and provides an excellent way for families to experience Judaism in their homes.”
In the Memphis community, 100% of interfaith families who participate in PJ Library said the program has increased their confidence in engaging their children around Jewish traditions, values and customs, according to PJ Library’s Triennial Family Survey, which was conducted in December. In the Mid-South, 26% of families participating in PJ Library are interfaith families, while 26% have a family member who is Jewish by choice.
“We look forward to our PJ Library books,” said Natalie Lieberman, whose 5-year-old daughter is a PJ Library kid. “As the non-Jewish mother of a Jewish child, sometimes I think the books help me connect with the Jewish holidays more than they do my daughter. We read together nightly, and the books are always relevant to the time of year. It helps cue me to prepare and engage my daughter in acknowledging or celebrating the event. If you didn’t grow up Jewish, the minor holidays aren’t on your radar, so it’s great that I can rely on our monthly PJ library book.”
PJ Library also provides participants with the opportunity to connect with other families in their community through events for younger children.
Forty-seven percent of PJ Library families attended events in Memphis for Jewish families with young children hosted by PJ Library or another organization in the past year. The events, which families say they usually attend a few times a year, provide 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.
“My kids look forward to the organized events with all of their friends from shul and school,” said Brooke Lubin, mother of three PJ Library kids, aged 2 to 6. “PJ Library has created another group of social peers, both for kids and for parents.”
In addition to creating connections between families, PJ Library is fostering communal ties, with 78% of participating Mid-South families saying the program has made them interested in getting more connected to local Jewish activities, organizations and people. In the last year, Mid-South PJ Library events have further nurtured the cohesion of a plugged-in community. These events give families opportunities to interact and have recently pulled more than 25 new families into the program.
To sign-up for PJ Library or to learn more about the program, visit jcpmemphis.org/pj-library or call 901.767.8522.