Every year for the past eleven, PJ Library Professionals gather together to learn, network, share, compare, present, sing, dance, eat and show their gratitude to Harold Grinspoon and his foundation for creating and funding this most amazing organization. Each year Harold’s daughter-in-law Winnie who is the President of HGF (Harold Grinspoon Foundation) shares the latest numbers about the reach of PJ Library. This year was no exception. This was my fifth conference and I was one of more than 300 people who made their way to Springfield Massachusetts for this three-day emersion course into everything PJ Library has to offer.
As of this date PJ Library delivers books to families in 21 countries for a total of 33 million books. They come in five languages including Hebrew, English, Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian. In the Ukraine we have 545 families signed up so far. Twenty-one thousand grandparents availed themselves of a special offer to obtain books and we learned that another offer of this sort will be presented again in the near future. The annual global budget for PJ Library is $36 million, $15.6 million of which comes from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation with the remainder coming from Federations like ours, alliance partners, international funders and the Israel Ministry of Education.
Some of the highlights of the conference for me were sessions about who the “new parents” are that we are programming for and what moves them. Of interest was the notion that new parents are more mature and informed. They are dedicated to spending more time with their kids and they are taking back some authority. They are setting limits, teaching consequences and don’t consider themselves peers to their kids. Today’s parents are giving their kids the message that they are unique and special just like everyone else.
We also learned that the “new grandparent” is very much involved in the lives of his/her grandchildren with 64% of them seeing their grandchildren at least once per week. The average age is 50 and many live in multi-generational households for immigration and financial reasons. Studies have been conducted that show that this symbiotic relationship results in emotional closeness, shared views and decreased feelings of depression. Grandparents were also the focus of another workshop which provided specific ideas for programming with those we now refer to as “Kin Keepers.” We are having such a program on Sunday, May 19 at Paint ‘n Play in Monrovia beginning at 2:30 p.m. We are inviting all PJ Library Grandparents and Special Friends to attend this event where they will be able to create a beautiful family heirloom together while interacting with other families. RSVP’s can be made by contacting the Jewish Federation at 626-445-0810 or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a charge of $18 per family.
Other sessions ranged in topic from the practical to the existential, from the how to, to the why? Audacious Hospitality focused on inclusion and belonging, the goal of which was to help us become more aware of the barriers we may unknowingly construct when planning or advertising our programs. Creating empathetic children was the goal of another workshop which was motivated by the statistic that children are 40% less empathetic now, then they were before 2010! We looked at PJ Library books whose themes helped children put themselves in another’s shoes and enabled them to see another’s perspective.
What makes this conference so successful every year is the non-stop positive energy, enthusiasm and creativity that flow from the organizers way up top down to the participants who hail from every state in the U.S., England, Australia, Canada, South America, Israel, Russia and more, from the newbies to those who have attended all eleven conferences and from the communities who have 300 subscribers to those with more than 30,000.
There is famous quote when the Jews accepted the Torah standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai “na’aseh v’nishma” – “We will do and we will hear/understand.” The Rabbis debated the order of the words in this statement – that the doing comes before the understanding creates a problem for some. But finally, after a lot of intellectual debate, they seemed willing to agree that the acceptable interpretation of this line is that study is great because it leads to action. A case in point with PJ Library is that the doing is always part of the learning whatever the order. This year before the conference began a dozen of us took a short trip to Jewish Family Services in downtown Springfield. There we learned that in 2018 Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts (JFSWM) resettled 139 immigrants in the area and supported 1,766 new Americans with an array of services including job consulting, ESL, and preparations for the citizenship exam. We were told that in cooperation with HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society which was founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing from pogroms, JFSWM was currently helping to resettle families from the Congo. A new family with twin two-year-old boys would be arriving any day. Our job was to descend to the chilly and musty basement of the building and sort through the thousands of donations left there to create welcome bags for this family which would consist of clothes, dishes, linen, furniture and other items necessary to create a new home. It takes each Congolese family more than 4 years to get the necessary papers to exit the refugee camps they have been calling home and to begin their trek across the world to their new home in Springfield.
Working shoulder to shoulder with other PJ Library professionals who I had just met, doing a task that is so meaningful and satisfying can only be described as awe-some. I was filled with awe and appreciation for those who organized this trip so we could contribute a little time and effort to help make the lives of a weary family just a little better. We all left feeling uplifted, energized and bonded and ready to begin the conference with a renewed sense of purpose. Thank you to Harold Grinspoon, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next month, for your vision and your generous spirit and for allowing me the privilege of being a small part of it.
DEBBY SINGER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.