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The Reach of PJ Library



What Was Your Favorite Book as a Child?


This cover artwork originally appeared in the PJ Library Haggadah that was gifted to 50,000 families last Passover.


The Story of the PJ Library Haggadah

Artwork from In Every Generation: A PJ Library Family Haggadah. Copyright © 2018 Harold Grinspoon Foundation. All rights reserved.



I always knew the PJ Library Book Selection Committee planned well in advance, but it wasn’t until I joined one of their meetings that I really saw just how far in advance. Members of the committee spoke about the development of a book that wouldn’t be mailed until 2022. That’s right, the Book Selection Committee is working on a book for 3-year-olds who haven’t even been born yet. One key to their success comes from our founder. ON ANY GIVEN WEEKDAY, Harold Grinspoon,

the 90-year-old Founder of PJ Library, is most likely walking through the offices of the Foundation, thinking about Jewish families and dreaming up new ways for families around the world to bring Judaism into their lives. PJ Library embodies many of the qualities that made Harold a successful businessman and philanthropist – including one of the quintessential characteristics of an entrepreneur: always working to improve ourselves and our product. The Book Selection Committee uses that drive to elevate the family experience and keep the product relevant to new parents. When sitting with the book selection committee, I couldn’t help but think about the numbers. The PJ Library and PJ Our Way Book Selection Committees need to deliver a total of 136 English-language titles across 11 age groups every year – from board books to middle-grade chapter books. And they’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, bringing hundreds of books to print, many for the very first time. Parents – new parents especially – have many responsibilities and precious little time. PJ Library can best serve our families by providing consistent, high-quality Jewish books and resources that support parents as they guide their family’s Jewish journeys.

Beyond the quality of the books and illustrations, the Book Selection Committee also considers the other books that we’ve sent a child. Oddly, the Book Selection Committee meeting didn’t make me think about the books we were choosing that month, but about the curated experience a family will have with PJ Library over time. Even after four years working for PJ Library, I was awestruck by the scope of the operation and the impact these meetings will have on a generation of Jewish children. Flip to page 14 for a year in the life of a 3-year-old subscriber to learn more about the Committee’s considerations when developing a child’s experience with the program. This issue of PROOF is a testament to the example Harold has set for PJ Library and the people who work behind the scenes to create an impactful program for families around the world. Harold pushes us to create new opportunities for PJ Library to reach parents and make Jewish life accessible and meaningful for their families. I hope you see that as you read through this issue of PROOF. As always, thank you for your partnership in bringing PJ Library to families around the world.

Will Schneider Director of Advancement, PJ Library Proud PJ Library Parent


Harold Grinspoon, the Founder of PJ Library, turns 90. Thank you, Harold.


My work as a Community Connector is made possible with support from a PJ Library Alliance Implementing Partner Engagement Grant, Diane & Guilford Glazer Philanthropies, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


years ago, the transition to parenthood left me desperately seeking others who were going through a similar experience. I needed someone to commiserate with about those middle-of-the-night feedings, someone to talk me down from the worries of whether or not my child’s milestones were normal, someone who felt just as unsure as I did about how to console a teething baby, maybe even someone who struggled with how to introduce Jewish traditions to a baby, like I did. I knew there had to be others going through the same thing nearby. In an attempt to find my people, I accompanied my son to library storytimes, neighborhood parks, and music classes, but I never felt a strong connection with the parents I met. The activities were a nice change of pace, but I was looking for something deeper, an opportunity to really connect with other parents. My son was a little over six months old when I came on board as a PJ Library in Los Angeles Community Connector, and with him in tow, I set out to meet our neighbors. I drank countless cups of coffee and cornered the market on playground playdates. I learned that, since the majority of families in my neighborhood were dual-income, weekends were prime time for family programming. Also, after being stuck inside an office building all week, the idea of doing something


active outdoors was really appealing. Mostly, these were families that spent the bulk of their time working and didn’t have the bandwidth for much else, let alone anything “Jewish.” This was the inspiration for a series of Shabbat meetups in the park. We gathered monthly for low-barrier Shabbat experiences with our neighbors. Over time, more families joined us for a chance to slow down, bond, and create friendships. It sounds simple, but for many families, these programs were the only opportunity they had to “do Jewish” and connect with other families. By the time I announced my second pregnancy, these programs had helped me solidify my parent tribe. The isolation I felt after having my first child was not so acute, because my PJ Library community was there for me in very tangible ways. When I went in for prenatal appointments, it was a PJ Library friend I trusted to watch my older son. When we finally made it home from the hospital, our community showed up with warm meals, visits, offers to take my older son to the park, mental health check-ins, and more. While I worked very hard to facilitate the growth of this community, I had no expectation that they would step up to care for me and my family in this way. My community members, my friends, were taking care of us and giving us what felt at the time like a communal hug. Ultimately this Jewish community of support is exactly what the PJ Library community connector program aims to foster. Our low-barrier programs act to both open the doors for lasting relationships and to model inclusive and approachable ways to explore Jewish traditions, values, and culture. By coming together as a community, families recognize their experiences as Jewish, and find community among the families they meet. These shared moments translate to meaningful bonds and traditions that will hopefully last generations.


WHEN MY OLDER DAUGHTER was a toddler, she thought

Tu B’Shevat (the new year of the trees, similar to Arbor Day) was the most important Jewish holiday. It was certainly her favorite, but not because her father and I hosted a Tu B’Shevat seder or took her out to hug the large oak at the local park. Truth be told, I didn’t even know what Tu B’Shevat was before the board book It’s Tu B’Shevat arrived in the mail from PJ Library. My little girl really loved that book. For months, she toddled around the house, baby doll in one hand, her beloved PJ Library book in the other. As we read it over and over again, the story of Tu B’Shevat became a part of her internal world, and mine too. It wasn’t just Tu B’Shevat, of course. Once my second daughter came along, the three of us learned about the symbols of the new year as we followed Engineer Ari on his Rosh Hashanah train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem. I remembered my grandfather’s giant cans of gefilte fish as we read Five Little Gefiltes, and I got a few ideas for Sukkot — another holiday I didn’t grow up with — from A Watermelon in the Sukkah. (For the record, we did not hang a watermelon in our sukkah.) Although I grew up in a culturally Jewish family (hence the giant cans of gefilte fish), I wasn’t raised with any sort of Jewish education or observance. My husband has a strong Jewish education and background, and, as an adult, I spent years attending services, taking classes, and reading every book I could get my hands on. I thought I knew enough.

But then I became a mother — a Jewish mother, no less — and somehow all of the learning I had done wasn’t enough. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, but I struggled to remember the names of holidays, the melodies for the blessings, and even the basic Hebrew words I had learned. I knew I wanted something different for my daughters, but I wasn’t sure how to give it to them. And then PJ Library books started arriving in our mailbox every month, and I learned so much more than the Hebrew word for the helper candle in the menorah or what it might feel like to be a young girl traveling to Israel for the first time. I learned that children’s books aren’t just useful for teaching my daughters; they’re a powerful way for adults to reclaim the stories we may have forgotten, or never learned in the first place. If you want to learn something new — whether it’s how to cook matzah brei or why your great-grandmother kept a live fish in her bathtub every spring — head over to the kids’ section (or sign up for PJ Library!). The reality is that I will always speak “Jewish” as a second language. But thanks to the help of PJ Library, PJ Our Way, and the other Jewish communities in our lives, I’m not only becoming fluent, but I’m also raising two native speakers who are growing up knowing exactly what Tu B’Shevat is and why we celebrate it.

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker and author of three parenting books, including the forthcoming How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids (Workman, 2019). She lives outside of Boston with her husband and two daughters.



The Reach of PJ Library

Expansion to new countries means learning about local culture, politics, and even postal capabilities. Some factors we must consider in our expansion are: What language should the books be in? Adding a new language isn’t as simple as translating a few books. Not every book in Spanish will resonate with families who speak Russian. Each country’s unique characteristics and local sensitivities must also be considered. In Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian are widely used, and many families use both. So, PJ Library sends books in both languages. Who will implement the program locally? Whenever possible, PJ Library seeks a local partner organization to implement the program. The partner communicates directly with parents, local organizations, and educators. In the US and Canada there are nearly 200 local partners, whereas in Australia there is just one. Shalom ensures books and programming reach families across the continent and in neighboring New Zealand. What unique logistics have to be considered? Can we mail books with religious content into the country? How will the books make it the 4,000 miles from our warehouse in Moscow to the eastern coast of Russia in Khabarovsk…in the same month? Are there other geopolitical events we need to factor in to keep the books in the mail? The PJ Library team faces these and many other similar questions on a regular basis.


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What ages can get PJ Library books?

Israel Australia Canada China New Zealand Singapore South Africa United Kingdom United States Chile Colombia Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Mexico Panama Spain Uruguay Venezuela Russia Ukraine How will the books be delivered? When PJ Library was adapted for children in Israel, the team found that mailboxes were too small, and timely delivery wasn’t always guaranteed. Partnering with the Ministry of Education and distributing books through schools was the best way to reach as many kids as possible. This method has been adapted for other countries where a sizable portion of Jewish children attend Jewish school and mailing the books to homes just doesn’t work.

Books are distributed through schools. Books are sent directly to homes. Books are sent to a local synagogue or Jewish community center to be distributed at services/programs. P RO O F SUMMER / FAL L 2019


Written by Meghan Cox Gurdon AUTHOR & WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST Originally published in the Wall Street Journal, January 19-20, 2019

Millions of people – perhaps you’re one of them – have watched viral videos of a Scottish granny collapsing in laughter while she reads to a baby. Comfortable on a sofa with her grandson, Janice Clark keeps cracking up as she tries to read The Wonky Donkey and, in a second video recorded a few months later, I Need a New Bum. HER RASPY BURR SOUNDS GREAT, and

she’s fun to watch, but the real genius of the scene is what’s happening to the baby. Tucked beside her, he’s totally enthralled by the book in her hands. In the second video especially, because he’s older, you can see his eyes tracking the illustrations, widening in amazement each time that she turns the page. He’s guileless, unaware of the camera. He has eyes only for the pictures in the book. What’s happening to that baby is both obvious and a secret marvel. A grandmother is weeping with laughter as she reads a story, and her grandson is drinking it all in – that’s obvious. The marvel is hidden inside the child’s developing brain. There, the sound of her voice, the warmth of her nearness, and, crucially, the sight of illustrations that stay still and allow him to gaze at will, all have the combined effect of engaging his deep cognitive networks. Unbeknown to him and invisible to the viewer, there is connection and synchronization among the different domains of his brain: the cerebellum, 8 PJLI BRARY.O RG

the coral-shaped place at the base of the skull that’s believed to support skill refinement; the default mode network, which is involved with internally directed processes such as introspection, creativity, and self-awareness; the visual imagery network, which involves higherorder visual and memory areas and is the brain’s means of seeing pictures in the mind’s eye; the semantic network, which is how the brain extracts the meaning of language; and the visual perception network, which supports the processing of visual stimuli. And it is all happening exactly when it needs to happen, which is early. In the first year of life, an infant’s brain doubles in size. By his second birthday, synapses are forming for language and many other higher cognitive functions. And by the time he’s blowing out five candles on his birthday cake, today’s viral-video infant celebrity will have passed through stages of development involving language, emotional control, vision, hearing, and habitual ways of responding. The early experiences he’s having, and the wiring and firing of neurons they produce, will

help to create the architecture of his mind and lay the pathways for his future thought and imagination. Leaving one particular Scottish baby aside, it is worth considering what cognitive and behavioral research can tell us about a baby’s gaze and the dynamic power of the picture book. Clinicians at the Cincinnati Children’s Reading and Literacy Discovery Center have been using MRI scanners to study these questions, and they’ve come up with a suitably fairy-tale phrase: The Goldilocks Effect. For a small 2018 study involving 27 children around the age of 4, the researchers watched how the young brains responded to different stimuli. As with the first bowl of porridge that Goldilocks finds in the house of the Three Bears, the sound of the storytelling voice on its own seemed to be “too cold” to get the children’s brain networks to fully engage. Like the second bowl that Goldilocks samples, animation of the sort that children might see on a TV screen or tablet was “too hot.” There is just too much going on, too quickly, for the children to be able to participate in what they were seeing. Small children’s brains have no difficulty registering bright, fastmoving images, as experience teaches and MRI scanning confirms, but the giddy shock and awe of animation doesn’t give them time to exercise their deeper cognitive faculties. Just as Goldilocks sighs with relief when she takes a spoonful from the third bowl of porridge and finds that it is “just right,” so a small child can relax into the experience of being read a picture book. There is a bit of pleasurable challenge in making sense of what he’s seeing and hearing. There is time to reflect on the story and to see its reverberations in his own life – a transaction that may be as simple as the flash of making a connection between a real donkey he once saw with the “honky tonky, winky

wonky donkey” of Craig Smith’s picture book. The collaborative engagement that a child brings to the experience is so vital and productive that reading aloud “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development,” as a 2014 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics put it, strengthening the neural connections that will enable him to process more difficult and complex stories as he gets older. Much of the hidden magic of reading aloud has to do with those curious eyes and that devouring gaze. Looking at a book with an adult, a child increases his capacity for “joint attention,” noticing what others see and following their gaze. This phenomenon has a remarkable tempering power in children. It encourages the development of executive function, an array of skills that includes the ability to remember details and to pay attention. Children “learn to naturally regulate their attention when they are focusing on a task they find interesting in a context that is nurturing, warm, and responsive,” as Vanderbilt University’s David Dickenson and colleagues put it in a paper summarizing the rich developmental value of reading aloud. By contrast, fast-paced TV shows have been shown to impair executive function in young children after as little as nine minutes of viewing. Nor is that the only tech-related downside. Babies look at adults to see where we’re looking, so if we’re glued to our electronic devices, that’s what will draw their gaze too. What they see may not be what we want them to see. As the psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair has written: “Babies are often distressed when they look to their parent for a reassuring connection and discover the parent is distracted or uninterested. Studies show that they are especially perturbed by a mother’s ‘flat’ or emotionless expression, something we might once have associated with a depressive caregiver but which now is eerily similar to the expressionless face

we adopt when we stare down to text, stare away as we talk on our phones, or stare into a screen as we go online.” Given that parents and grandparents are going to spend some time using devices, it is all the more important to balance it out with times of intense engagement with babies and toddlers. Glancing down to catch a baby’s eye while reading a story, meeting a child’s inquiring gaze – these simple acts bring the child’s brain waves into greater synchronization with the adult’s, according to recent research at Cambridge University. Babies in the

LOOKING FOR MORE? Released January 2019, Meghan Cox Gurdon’s The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction offers an intriguing look into the transformative experience of reading aloud.

study made more vocalizations when they were in sync, suggestive of an early head-start in language. Reading picture books to them thus has a double effect: It removes the negative of extra screen time while adding a terrific positive in the form of skill- and brain-building effects. It’s a perfect way to ensure that babies and young children get what their eyes so benefit from seeing: wonderful pictures in books and the wonderful human face. Ms. Gurdon writes the Journal’s “Children’s Books” column. This essay is adapted from her new book The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins (which, like the Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp).





question is like asking me who my favorite child is, given that I work closely with dozens of our authors and oversee the selection of more than 136 PJ Library titles each year. But my answer is always the same, without any hesitation: When I was about 8 years old, I received my first and only copy of Eric A. Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. The story tells the tale of Hershel of Ostropol, a young man on a mission to banish ghoulish goblins who are haunting a local synagogue and preventing everyone from celebrating Hanukkah. Using his astute guile, Hershel outwits seven goblins only to then encounter the king of all the goblins. The king is so frighteningly illustrated that I remember not being able to fully look at the page when he asks Hershel, in a booming voice, “Do you know who I am?” But then, Hershel, with the perfect mix of bravery and nervousness, replies, “I know you aren’t Queen Esther.” The joke is, of course, that Queen Esther is from the story of Purim, not Hanukkah. She was known for her beauty, quite the opposite of the horrific-looking goblin. But the first time (and every time) I read this book, I smiled and immediately felt safe. I had not only the Jewish knowledge to understand what the author was doing, but felt in that moment that I belonged to something bigger than just this narrative.


Eric A. Kimmel, the most prolific PJ Library author, signed Meredith’s copy of the book to both her and her two children during this past year’s Author Israel Adventure.

Now that’s not to say that other readers less connected to the Jewish experience can’t appreciate the gripping plot, the Caldecott-winning illustrations, or the timeless quality of this story. But because of the traditions and culture that my parents and my teachers had instilled in me, I felt I had some kind of magical key that opened up a deeper meaning in this story. This experience, so special and fulfilling, guides my vision for PJ Library and the books we choose. I carry it with me through every selection, asking myself, “Will this book be someone else’s Hershel?” Thirty years from now, will a new parent watch their child tear open a PJ Library envelope and find their own favorite (Jewish!) book from childhood? One so ingrained in their memory they can still recall their favorite moments and illustrations? Just a few years ago, I pulled down my copy of Hershel from my bookshelf. It is in surprisingly good shape, given the years of use and hundreds of reads. The inside cover has the initials of my maiden name, written in my mother’s handwriting. Together, I read this book with my two children. During one of these reads when my older son, Ari, was about 7 years old, he stopped me on the page where the king of all the goblins appears. Ari looked at me and said, “Mom, that’s funny. Because, you know, Queen Esther is from the Purim story.”


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on a PJ Library book recently, you may have noticed that they’ve been spiffed up a bit. Compared to older book flaps, they’re longer (we print on the underside of the flap, doubling our real estate), designed with parents in mind (clear headings and illustrations make for better readability), and they offer more information to families, including discussion prompts, hands-on activities, and individualized book URLs for more resources.


It’s a challenge to pack this much information onto a slice of paper that isn’t much larger than a bookmark. But our research tells us that for many families, these flaps provide much-needed guidance. If you’re a parent raising Jewish children and you don’t know much about, say, Shavuot or Tu B’Shevat, it’s helpful to get a little more backstory. Ironically, the flaps that often have to do the heaviest lifting are the ones for books that have the least overt Jewish content. Rather than fleshing out a holiday or a tradition, flaps for secular books need to help families understand what’s Jewish about the book in the first place.



Featured Book Flap: Pavel and the Tree Army

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So, let’s take a recipe approach to the flap copy. Here’s a list of ingredients:


THE BIG QUESTION. This overarching question at the top of the flap distills each book to a single, open-ended question that’s intended to make everyone, kids and adults, think.

TALK IT OVER WITH YOUR KIDS. The Big Question is for everyone; the Jewish Concepts are for parents. These discussion prompts are tailored for the kids receiving the book and are meant to open conversation about it with their caregivers. When we mix all these ingredients together, the ideal result is a guide that provides useful information to all families, across the spectrum of Jewish practice, and complements the messages inside the book. The Book Selection Committee strives to send out books that families will want to read again and again. With any luck, families will also read the flaps at least once, and be inspired to think and talk – and maybe even do – more.

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together many Jewish values, such as welcoming the stranger.


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JEWISH CONCEPTS. Three or four chunks of information answer a question readers might have about the holiday, tradition, or value. This section may also answer the question, “What’s Jewish about this book?” HANDS ON. Whether they’re recipes, crafts, or games, these are ideas about things to do when the book is finished. Ideally it will involve things that are already hanging around the house – we don’t want people to have to make a special trip to the crafts store.


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I BECAME AWARE OF PJ LIBRARY when they asked to reprint

a book I had published. I have been tickled to hear from so many people that my book Tea with Zayde is now in their home library thanks to PJ Library. I have published close to 50 picture books, and in all the years I have been writing and illustrating, I have never heard of or been involved with another institution like PJ Library. Who else can get books into so many people’s hands? My parents grew up across the street from each other in Brooklyn. They moved to California, and I was raised in a Jewish household


where my mother subscribed to the Groucho Marx line, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” As a result, we did celebrate Passover and Hanukkah, but neither I nor my two siblings were bar or bat mitzvah. I was also sent to Quaker summer camp for six summers on a farm, so basically my Jewish education was nonexistent. And then I met my now wife of 34 years. Her father was the director of a temple. I knew it was time to learn something about being Jewish when our daughter came home from the Temple preschool talking about Haman. I sincerely asked her if that was the name of a boy in her class.

This past February, PJ Library invited me, along with 17 other writers, to travel from the Negev desert to Jerusalem and then to Tel Aviv on the Author Israel Adventure. It was an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity and a perfect way for me to get some more Jewish education. The idea behind bringing us to Israel was the hope of inspiring us to write books about Jewish traditions and values. As a writer and an illustrator, the process of where ideas come from has always been fascinating to me. My books are traditionally stories about relationships, with themes of solidarity and celebrating what makes us unique and, at the same time, what makes us feel connected to each other. I never know when or where I’m going to find inspiration. I don’t think it’s possible to visit Israel without being moved. I found myself taking a lot of photos and drawing over them on my iPad. My first drawing was done with a partial mural left on a wall at Masada. I found that there was something so powerful in blending ancient history with my illustrations. After I published a book called Beautiful Oops!, where I turn mistakes into art, I learned about tikkun olam, repairing the world. I had this feeling in Israel that when I was creating art from photographs, it wasn’t that I was repairing, but rather illuminating what I saw. Jerusalem is filled with such a rich history, and at the same time, there is a vibrance of youth and a growing modern city, mixing in with the old. Talk about inspiring!

As one who was raised not to be a member of any group, I found myself traveling with a group of children’s book writers in a land where I felt very much at home. I am delighted to say that I am a very happy member of a spectacular group of people who were given the gift of exploring a very special country. I can’t wait to read the books my new extended family creates as a result of this incredible experience. Barney Saltzberg has been captivating audiences since 1980 as he has traveled all over the world speaking about creativity. One of his children’s books, Beautiful Oops!, was chosen by Melinda Gates as one of the top three books every child should read! He is also the co-founder of the YouTube channel, CREATEtubeITY, a site to inspire creativity for families. Go to for more.

GREAT STORYTELLING REQUIRES GREAT STORYTELLERS. Investing in authors and illustrators is an integral part of PJ Library’s success. It takes time to make great books happen – there are PJ Library books currently in development for children who haven’t even been born yet! Through retreats and workshops, PJ Library works with authors and illustrators to create content that meets the needs of PJ Library’s growing subscriber base and global presence.




Twice a year, PJ Library sends children and their families a surprise activity with their books. These special resources give families a new way to create and connect with Jewish traditions and holidays through play and exploration. Developing these activities is one of the most challenging (and fun!) parts of PJ Library’s work, but maybe not for the reasons you think. In-the-envelope activities must meet our high standards for the engaging Jewish content we share with families and fit the realities of mailing more than 200,000 books every month. That means activities must be: 1. Relevant to all PJ Library families, both parents and children of varying ages. 2. Small, at no more than 8x8 inches, so they can fit with any size PJ Library book. 3. Flat – less than 1/8 of an inch thick to be exact. Any thicker, and the envelopes would ship as parcels, and postage for hundreds of thousands of books really adds up! 4. Flexible, so the package doesn’t jam going through postal sorting machines. Take, for example, the Passover River Ride, sent to all families in March 2019. The package is 8x8 in the envelope, but unfold the panels and you’ll find a large poster that brings the Passover story to life – there are even tear-off game pieces! If you could reach hundreds of thousands of families, while following the rules above, what would you send?

PJ Library works with artists and illustrators from around the world to create the in-the-envelope activities, giving each piece its own unique personality and style – just like the books!


creation of a new PJ Library in-theenvelope activity on the Blessing of the Children, the blessing parents have traditionally given their children on Shabbat evening.

The ritual stuck and picked up steam (we have four children, all young adults), and now my children ask us for a Friday night blessing, sometimes even calling in from Peru or India or who-knows-where to get their blessing over WhatsApp.

I grew up in a home where Friday nights included blessings over candles, wine, and challah. But no one ever blessed me. That moment had to wait until I became a bar mitzvah. After I read the Torah – in a voice higher and squeakier than I feared possible – the rabbi draped his prayer shawl over my head and intoned (believe me, that’s the right verb) a blessing. He was not my favorite person, and the experience was uncomfortable.

With PJ Library’s Blessing of the Children activity, we invite parents to take a cue from Jewish tradition – not only to bring in Shabbat to catch one’s breath after a busy week, but to do it in a thoughtful and personal way. Whether your Friday night dinner is roasted chicken or takeout pizza, there’s an opportunity to draw your children close, to let them know that you see them, and, in traditional or improvised words (or both), to say

WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR YOUR CHILDREN? That question guided the

Years later, when my wife and I held a newborn at our own Friday night table, we felt a desire to give him a blessing. We felt so blessed to have him. We wanted to return the favor. So each week we’d hug our son and say the Blessing of the Children, the same blessing my congregational rabbi had recited. But it felt completely different. It felt intimate and genuine. We’d say the traditional words – the oldest blessing Jews have, dating back over 3,000 years – and then add our own whispered wishes.

what you appreciate about them, what you wish for them, and what you’ve noticed this past week or hope for in the coming week. This is a tradition all parents can find value in, no matter their level of observance. To make this family activity accessible to a wide range of parents, we offer language options – the traditional blessing in Hebrew (quite ancient and mesmerizing), a classic translation (“May God bless you and keep you”), a contemporary version, and tips for adding or substituting your own wishes for your children. And because it’s often easier being the blesser than the blessee, we’ve also created something for restless kids to hold and use at that moment – a sort of “mindfulness tool.” It’s a series of beautifully illustrated unfolding panels, each depicting a different scene of a parent blessing a child. We can imagine this tool becoming a weekly family-whisperer: It’s time for my blessing. Our Blessing of the Children piece encourages families to take a traditional Shabbat ritual and make it their own, furthering PJ Library’s goal of supporting meaningful Jewish experiences in the home.





Being 3 years old with PJ Library


The PJ Library Book Selection Committee asks a lot of questions. Each month, the committee gathers to review a collection of books – both published and forthcoming – that will arrive in mailboxes a year after they’re chosen. Books

Something from Nothing

must meet multiple quality and content benchmarks (Are

Written and Illustrated by Phoebe Gilman

we offering enough content on Jewish holidays? Values? History? Are we providing titles that show not just geographic

This title was one of the very first books PJ Library sent out. We still love this sweet interpretation of a classic Jewish tale, and we’re excited to send it again to a new generation of PJ Library families.

and ethnic diversity, but also a diversity of Jewish practice?), but they also have to fit with the other books families receive (Too many folk tales? Not enough contemporary stories? Has this age received any Sephardi tales, or has it been mostly Ashkenazi?). And then, of course, there’s the overriding question: Is this book good? Will it sit on a bookshelf gathering dust, or will a


family read it again and again (and again)? It’s a tricky balance to strike, but we love the challenge. Here’s a look at how


the Book Selection Committee made PJ Library an exciting experience for 3-year-olds and their families from August 2018 through August 2019.


Written by Roni Schotter Illustrated by Marylin Hafner

SEP 2018


Roni Schotter, author of this lovely portrayal of a classic Hanukkah, also wrote the PJ Library books Passover Magic and Purim Play.


All the World

Written by Liz Garton Scanlon Illustrated by Marla Frazee This sweet title is illustrated by Marla Frazee, who not only won the Caldecott Award but also created the Boss Baby series that inspired the 2017 animated movie!


Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express

DEC 2018

Written by Deborah Bodin Cohen Illustrated by Shahar Kober There aren’t that many books about the holiday of Sukkot – and even fewer that combine that holiday with the perennial toddler favorite: trains!

Families received CDs for the last time this December. For Jewish kids’ music visit or download the PJ Library Radio app!

JAN 2019

Happy Birthday, Tree!

Written by Madelyn Rosenberg Illustrated by Jana Christy From board books all the way up to middle-grade books, Sydney Taylor Award-winner Madelyn Rosenberg crosses all ages of PJ Library kids.

DID YOU KNOW? The PJ Library website has a comprehensive database of every PJ Library book sent to families. Looking for a Rosh Hashanah book for 5-year-olds that teaches them to care for the environment? You can search for that! Visit and find just the book you’re looking for.

APR 2019

It’s a Mitzvah, Grover Written by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer Illustrated by Tom Leigh

Kids will love seeing one of their favorite Sesame Street characters in a Jewish context…and parents will love introducing their children to the concept of mitzvot.

JUL 2019





Saturdays Are Special Written by Chris Barash Illustrated by Abigail Marble

PJ Library has many, many books on Shabbat (and we can always use more!), but relatively few about Havdalah. This sweet story illustrates why the end of Shabbat is just as meaningful as the start.

Fast Asleep in a Little Village in Israel

Written by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

The Little, Little House Written and illustrated by Jessica Souhami

Certain folktales are so good, they appear in our lineup again and again. Readers might also recognize this story in A Big Quiet House, Terrible, Terrible! and It Could Always Be Worse.

Cucuricu! That’s Hebrew for “cock-adoodle-doo.” This ambient slice of Israeli life provides readers a window into what things are like half a world away.

AUG MAR 2019




Oh No, George! Pippa’s Passover Plate Written by Vivian Kirkfield Illustrated by Jill Weber

Every March, we try to send Passover books to each age group. This new title is not only a Passover book, but also a values book, highlighting the importance of ometz lev: courage.

I Love Camp!

Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton

You might recognize artist Todd Parr’s distinctive style from the PJ Library tzedakah box – hundreds of thousands of tzedakah boxes have been sent so far, with more going to new PJ Library families every December.

This sweet tale about a dog who gets in trouble was also translated into Hebrew for PJ Library’s sister program in Israel, Sifriyat Pijama, which means Jewish kids around the globe will be delighting in George’s antics.

Written and Illustrated by Todd Parr





through my work as a Director of the William Davidson Foundation. As PJ Library Alliance Partners, we were invited to see firsthand PJ Library’s groundbreaking work in Russia and witness why the program is so important to the greater Jewish community. As I had never been to Russia before, my pre-trip impressions were framed by remembering stories about the refuseniks in the former USSR. Not only were they prohibited from living a Jewish life, but they were unable to leave the former Soviet Union and worse. Once the Iron Curtain fell, however, and so many thousands of Jews emigrated, I thought that Jewish life was dying off there – literally. I figured that many Jews either didn’t know about their heritage or had actively sought to hide it for their own safety. After spending time in Russia, however, I now realize the reality is very different. While there, I learned about the huge rebirth of Jewish life in Russia! Thousands of Jews are finding a renewed interest in their roots, and for the first time in decades, they are free to express it publicly. In fact, globally, 20 to 25 percent of Jews are Russian-speaking or have a Russian-speaking parent – significantly more than I’d realized. 1 8 PJLI BRARY.O RG RG 1 8 PJLI BRARY.O

As we toured Moscow and St. Petersburg, we were met with palpable excitement from Jewish educators and families across Russia. Highlights included: meeting with more than 100 PJ Library educators who are enthusiastically spreading the word about the program’s Jewish books to their communities; dining with other parents in St. Petersburg and sharing our favorite PJ Library stories; and visiting Limmud Moscow, where we joined 2,000 Jews who were spending the day learning about various Jewish topics. As Jewish funders, our group quickly realized the importance of investing in Russian Jewish life, where there is clearly a hunger for reconnection and deeper understanding. This investment will not only support the Russian Jewish community, but also helps to strenghten ties throughout the Jewish world. I know this because I’ve read the same PJ Library books to my own children that parents in Russia and 20 other countries have read to theirs. Clearly, the joy of reading Jewish stories to our children is universal, and PJ Library is helping rekindle that one book at a time.


FOR MANY JEWISH FAMILIES IN RUSSIA, PJ Library is the only regular

Jewish experience they have for their children. Though books are delivered directly to homes throughout Russia, incorporating PJ Library into education and community programming has been instrumental to the program’s success. From classroom learning to workshops and activities, hundreds of Jewish teachers and educators across Russia are using PJ Library books to engage children. Whether “hundreds” seems big or small to you, let me explain what this means for us here in Russia. Just imagine, the city of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East is an eight-hour flight from Moscow. Yet the local Chabad community started regular activities for 30 kids at the Simha kindergarten based exclusively on PJ Library. In the Urals, in the city of Chelyabinsk, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and a local donor support PJ Library classes in the local Jewish community center. The same is true for Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan; Voronezh; Bryansk of Central Russia; and so many other Jewish communities where teachers greatly appreciate our books as new and effective tools for Jewish education.

To invest in the educators who bring PJ Library to life across Russia, we brought 111 teachers from 46 cities together for two days of learning and networking at the first all-Russia PJ Library conference. Participants shared best practices and heard from speakers on reaching new families and using PJ Library books with existing curriculum. The experience would not have been complete without a visit from founder Harold Grinspoon and Harold Grinspoon Foundation President Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, as well as donors and staff who help make PJ Library possible. Educators were truly excited to meet the Foundation leadership and felt so proud to be part of a global program that unites Jews of Russia with the rest of the Jewish world. It is hard to overestimate the importance of such visits. Despite the stereotypes and thorny geopolitics, Americans, Russians, and Ukrainians* (and, technically, one Maldovan) joined together to learn and celebrate their love and appreciation of Jewish values and culture. We miss you already. Please come again soon!

*The PJ Library Conference in Russia also welcomed a small delegation of Jewish educators from Ukraine, led by the new Director of PJ Library in Ukraine, Evgeniya Ponomarenko, who came to St. Petersburg to announce the start of operations. Ukraine is the 21st country to join PJ Library.





that teaches us about reusing and recycling items, as well as about family and how we develop and pass on our knowledge and love. It was also my first PJ Library book, and it got me hooked! As a convert to Judaism, the books are very helpful as I raise my children. They act as tools for me to teach them, but also help me learn family songs and traditions that I did not learn as a child myself. The books are so accessible and engaging, and we all enjoy the monthly arrivals. From this personal perspective, it is a great pleasure to donate to PJ Library and the amazing impact it has. However, giving for me is much more than just money, and it was obvious that within my own community other people could benefit from signing up for PJ Library. The books are a wonderful way of bringing Judaism into the home, regardless of observance level, and I think it is a vital ingredient to a vibrant community. Many of our friends are not as engaged, and I felt that they would really enjoy the books, so I hosted a parent event at my home to help spread the word. After the amazing feedback, we now also use the books as part of our Shabbat children’s service, and PJ Library storytellers are regular attendees at our community events. As a strong advocate for PJ Library, I was delighted to be invited to join the UK Advisory Board to support the UK team to expand and grow their work. This active involvement is so important to me, and I hope that my professional business skills can help PJ Library grow and reach more of the Jewish community across the whole of the UK.


Education and community are core to our giving, and PJ Library brings these elements together in such an accessible and familyoriented way that we were happy to support it. As PJ Library grandparents, we enjoy reading the books to our seven grandchildren, and we are sure that we will continue to benefit from them as they all grow up!” David and Judy Dangoor Exilarch’s Foundation Libby Dangoor’s Parents-in-Law



& Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. The Foundation’s focus on supporting children and families is particularly relevant in the Jewish community, where early intervention often leads to children developing strong Jewish identities, and an overall more vibrant Jewish community. PJ Library not only provides books and materials to young Jewish families, it helps establish and nurture the Jewish identities of future generations, which is critical to our success. Our family is a sustainer of PJ Library in Detroit, not only as donors but also as individual recipients who use these materials in our own homes. We are thrilled with the impact of PJ Library’s work on our lives and those in our community.

Jewish community, we were attracted to PJ Library’s mission and were eager and excited to bring PJ Library to the greater Charlotte area. Now in its seventh year in Charlotte, PJ Library – along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte – helps our Jewish community thrive into the future. In addition to Jewish causes, our philanthropic focus has been around early childhood development and education. Supporting PJ Library perfectly aligns with our Jewish and civic values – while tapping into the bedtime routine, which is a virtually sacred time in the development of any healthy child-centered environment, PJ Library provides a welldefined and strategic way to reach and engage a new generation of families in Jewish life. We are proud and honored to play a part in this impactful endeavor.  Brad and Liz Winer Charlotte, North Carolina

Jane Sherman and David Sherman Detroit, Michigan

WHY DO WE GIVE? How could we not once we WE FIRST HEARD ABOUT PJ LIBRARY when our grandchildren were two

and four. It sounded like the perfect program as they loved books, and we were always searching for books to read to them. However, upon signing up we discovered there was a waiting list. Originally, our concern was to make sure our grandchildren would be able to participate. But the more we learned about the program, the more we wanted to ensure that PJ Library was always available to the whole community. PJ Library is so important to the Sacramento community. It is a bridge to unaffiliated families and a creative way to assist parents and grandparents who are working to instill Jewish values and traditions in the future generation. We are very thankful to Rikki and now Shelly for the work they do with this program and of course to Willie Recht, our Federation Director, for making this a priority too. We have established an ongoing PJ Library endowment with the Federation to ensure that PJ Library continues in the greater Sacramento community when we are no longer able to contribute in our lifetime.

have seen the impact, the reverberation, and the connection made throughout the entire Jewish world? PJ Library brings light (and smiles) to children around the world. It is our privilege to support this brilliant idea and the wonderful people of the PJ Library team and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation who make it happen. Barry and Gay Curtiss-Lusher Denver, Colorado

Richard Robinson and Marjorie Swartz Sacramento, California




With contribution from the Next-Gen Advisory Board THE PASSOVER SEDER IS STORYTELLING AT ITS BEST: a cliffhanger tale

told through reading, singing, tasting, showing, and questioning. This multi-dimensional approach has helped generations to appreciate the Passover story – the bitterness of slavery, the rushed escape from the oppressive Pharaoh, the dramatic parting of the Sea of Reeds, and our connection to the Almighty and our redemption. We finish the seder more appreciative, more hopeful, and more committed to the ideals of freedom. In some cases, we also finish the seder with kids sleeping in their chairs or playing games under the table. There are many opportunities for kids to be involved in the seder, but keeping their attention can be a challenge. The Haggadah, a guide to the seder, reminds the adults to tailor our explanations in different ways to speak to different kinds of children. And yet, parents still sometimes struggle through their seders, wishing for a more accessible Haggadah that works for the entire family.


of the families who signed up to receive a set indicated this would be their family’s FIRST Haggadah.

In a follow up survey:


of families who used their Haggadah agreed or strongly agreed that it presented the seder in an accessible way.

We are fortunate to be able to collaborate with the Next-Gen Advisory Board, a talented advisory committee that helps shape PJ Library. We gather together quarterly to test ideas with this group of young thinkers and creators. It was during these meetings that the PJ Library Haggadah started taking shape. We provided Next-Gen with a small budget, and off they went – researching the market and developing a virtual creative team (which included an illustrator in Israel, a graphic designer in Massachusetts, and content experts in New York), all while communicating with the PJ Library professional team for guidance and feedback. Read on to learn about just a few of the considerations Next-Gen made as they developed the PJ Library Haggadah.

Producing an accessible Haggadah for PJ Library families was a challenge. Drawing on the traditional Haggadah’s timeless values, however, helped guide the process — and will surely continue to influence future revisions. After all, to stay relevant for every generation, the PJ Library Haggadah will need to keep evolving. RIGHT TO LEFT. First, we imagined the experience of first-

Shalom! Because this book has Hebrew, which is read from right to left, we start at the other end. Flip to the other side to get started.

time seder participants encountering strange new words and concepts. The Haggadah, like every traditional Jewish book with Hebrew text, opens from right to left, which could be confusing right from the start. This is why the last page (which would be the first page of an English-language book) features characters who welcome readers and gently guide them to flip the book over.


Pour a third cup of wine or grape juice. We will say the blessing for it and drink it after we say these thankyou blessings.

illustrator created vivid depictions of ancient scenes with spirited characters (mostly children) who reappear throughout, interacting with the text around them. These whimsical details, which appeal both to the very young and the young at heart, let kids who can’t yet read experience the richness of the seder along with everyone else.


It’s important for the Haggadah to deepen Jewish literacy and provide rich content for families, but 5-year-olds can’t make it through everything. We culled essential seder elements to keep the pace flowing while maintaining the integrity of the traditional text.

STRUCTURE. To strengthen narrative cohesion, we divided

the PJ Library Haggadah text into four sections: Welcome, The Story, The Special Meal, and Celebrate. Within this structure, the PJ Library Haggadah presents the seder as a time warp, transporting participants back to a night in ancient Egypt when Jews had to decide if they were ready for redemption. As illustrations depict characters setting the seder table with pyramids in the background, the prose asks: “Wait, where are we now?”




67 Hunt Street, Suite 100 Agawam, MA 01001 USA 413-276-0800





IT’S ALWAYS FINE TO SAY, “I DON’T KNOW.” When your kid asks a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t bluff and bluster. Say, “What a great question! I’m not sure, but I’ll try to find out.” Or “Let’s look it up together!” Let your kid see your own efforts to educate yourself – reading, taking adulted classes, asking other adults to explain things to you. Your kid will see that there’s no shame in not knowing everything, and they’ll be less likely to grow up cheating and taking shortcuts to seem more informed than they really are.

PICK YOUR BATTLES. The Talmud (core collection of rabbinic writings) says, “Do not threaten a child. Either punish him or forgive him.” Good advice! There are things to dig in about and things to let slide. If you tell your kid, “We’re leaving in five minutes,” leave in five minutes. (Pro tip: Giving warnings always helps kids with transitions.) If you say, “Don’t hit,” and your kid hits, whisk them out of the situation and explain why hitting’s a no-go. But if your tween rolls their eyes while starting the task you just told them to do, focus on the good stuff rather than barking about the facial expression. They’re doing the thing! That’s what’s important. Remember you can’t control everything, so focus on what really matters.

MODEL TIKKUN OLAM. Tikkun olam means “repairing the world.” Talk about how we all have to do our part to make this planet a better place, and then walk the walk. Volunteer for a park cleanup as a family. Let your kid see you giving charity, explain why, and have your kid donate part of their allowance to a cause they care about. Talk about how you vote your values at election time. As the foundational Jewish text Pirkei Avot puts it, “You’re not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you allowed to desist from it.” ENCOURAGE GEEKINESS. Help your kid figure out what their passions are; then encourage those passions. If your kid loves spaceships or princesses or horses, provide whatever books and field trips you can. Talk about the problematic aspects – space travel is expensive, so why should we pay for it? Why is it troubling that movie princesses all tend to look a specific, narrow way? Why can’t we have a horse in our Manhattan apartment?





LAUGH. with Find the humor in parenting. Encourage jokes; watch comedies and read silly books. Kids are funny. This is an evolutionary strategy so we don’t kill them.


Marjorie Ingall

TELL STORIES. Share your family history. Show kids photos of relatives they never knew and comment on the fashions and cars. Offer up stories from your own childhood. (Kids love hearing about the best friend you rode bikes with, how you were afraid of the dark, and how you were vicious at kickball.) It’s a bonding opportunity, a chance to 24 PJLI BRARY.O RG share your values, and a way to teach a kid where they came from.


SELF-ESTEEM IS OVERRATED. Don’t praise kids for doing the minimum expected. Ask questions about their work rather than offering empty compliments. Let your kid see that self-esteem comes not from being showered with compliments and told how smart they are, but from working hard, being encouraged in their interests, and being kind to others.

Author of PJ Librar y’s Parent Book Choice selection Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children. Marjorie writes about children’s books for Tablet Magazine and the New York Times Book Review.

Profile for Harold Grinspoon Foundation

PROOF Summer/Fall 2019  

A PJ Library Magazine

PROOF Summer/Fall 2019  

A PJ Library Magazine


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