PJ Library, the flagship program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, delivers more than 170,000 free Jewish children’s books and music CDs throughout the United States and Canada each month, including 550 families in the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys. Books are sent to children ages six months through eight years, with each subscriber receiving a title carefully selected for high-quality content and age-level appropriateness. 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. PJ Library recently expanded its offerings to provide books to older children ages eight-and-a-half to 11 in the United States through the PJ Our Way™ program which is currently reaching almost 100 tweens in our area.
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 United States 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 our community, 90 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!
In our valleys, 37 percent of families participating in PJ Library are interfaith families, while 27 percent have a family member who is Jewish by choice, according to PJ Library’s Triennial Family Survey, which was conducted in December. Across the United States and Canada, approximately one-quarter of families participating in PJ Library (28%) identify as interfaith, while one-in-six (16%) has a family member who is Jewish by choice.
PJ Library also provides participants the opportunity to connect with other families in their community through events for younger children. In the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, 44 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, celebrate holidays, share meals and learn each other’s stories. 79 percent of the parents who went to these events say they connected socially with other adults they met.
In addition to creating connections between families, PJ Library is fostering communal ties, with 85 percent of all participating families in our area saying the program has made them interested in getting more connected to local Jewish activities, organizations and/or people.
To ensure parents feel equipped to talk with their children about Jewish values and traditions, PJ Library includes information for parents on the inside flaps 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- one percent of our families who participate in PJ Library say the program is a valuable parenting tool, and 94 percent say it has helped them think about the kind of Jewish practice they want to have in their home. In addition, 98% of our families said that PJ Library has supported them in building up or adding a Jewish tradition to their home life.
The 2016 Triennial Family Study, conducted in partnership with external evaluation firm Informing Change, consisted of an online survey and had a 20% response rate with 25,270 responses. In our community the response rate was 23%. We are very encouraged and energized by the results of this survey in our valleys and we look forward to providing even more opportunities for our families to connect, interact and grow their Jewish roots.
Debby Singer is the PJ Library Program Coordinator and a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.