PJ Library links a growing number of Jewish families—through the pages of children’s books—to Jewish life

BY CINDY SHER ON OCTOBER 30, 2017

Read the article in JUF News

When story time arrives at their Bucktown home, 4-year-old Micah and her 2-year-old brother, Levi, usually head straight to their PJ Library collection of books. The Jewish-themed children's books delivered monthly to their home are in the constant book rotation like in so many other Jewish homes with young children around the country. 

PJ Library, created 12 years ago by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, has delivered more than 10 million books to families--of all backgrounds, family makeup, and observance levels--raising Jewish children around the world.

" Nearly every family--99 percent--reported in the most recent survey that PJ Library has somehow added value to how their family thinks about or practices Judaism."

 

Here in Chicago, PJ Library launched back in 2008 through funding from JUF and generous local donors, and has provided age-appropriate books and music to almost 19,000 children--and counting. PJ Library serves children ages 6 months to 8 years, and when children age out of PJ Library, they move onto a PJ Library offshoot called PJ Our Way for older children.

PJ Library consistently reports that its program has an influence in connecting families to Jewish life. "In our 10 years of PJ Library in Chicago, families continue to share how reading the books have inspired them to become more connected in Jewish life-from attending our PJ Library holiday celebrations and volunteering with JUF TOV to enrolling their children in Jewish preschools, summer camp, and day schools," said Rachel Rapoport, PJ Library's Program Director at JUF.

And PJ Library families are connecting to Jewish life in increasing numbers. Families who were surveyed in national PJ Library surveys in both 2013 and 2016 reported higher levels of influence from PJ Library in 2016 in questions about Jewish connection. Nearly every family--99 percent--reported in the most recent survey that PJ Library has somehow added value to how their family thinks about or practices Judaism.

Even for PJ Library households with parents who didn't grow up with strong Jewish backgrounds, the survey found that the program is influencing their children Jewishly. In fact, the survey reported that PJ Library is more likely to influence intermarried families than in-married families. For instance, 83 percent of survey respondents said that PJ library has increased their confidence in engaging their kids on Jewish topics. That number spikes to 94 percent when looking exclusively at intermarried families.

Back at Micah and Levi's home, lately the kids have been reading, re-reading, and re-reading again Flying High , New England Patriots star Julian Edelman's semi-autobiographical book about a charming squirrel who wants to play football. Micah and Levi also gravitate toward the book Bim and Bom.

Their home, children's books and all, feels very Jewish, and that's just the way Micah and Levi's mom and dad, Cortney Lederer and Stefan Teodosic, intended it to be. But Jewish life is much more a centerpiece of their children's lives than it was for Lederer and Teodosic when they were kids.

Lederer grew up in Barrington, Ill., a suburb with a small Jewish population. She came from a culturally Jewish, but not observant family, and never had a bat mitzvah. She hadn't dated Jewish guys, either, until she met her future husband.

Teodosic was born and raised in the Detroit suburbs by a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. His family celebrated some of the Jewish holidays, but weren't particularly active in the Jewish community.

Then, as a young adult living in New York, working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 prompted Teodosic to take stock of his priorities, switching careers from the for-profit sector to his dream of being a director of a Jewish camp. Today, he is the executive director of Beber Camp in Wisconsin and Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania, and active in the JUF community here in Chicago.

During their courtship, Lederer and Teodosic started contemplating more seriously what type of Jewish life they would want to pursue together. When they had their first baby, they wanted to make more intentional Jewish choices for their burgeoning family.

PJ Library books and their events have been a big part of that Jewish journey. "Cortney and I had never lit Shabbat candles when we were married before we had kids," Teodosic said. "We have now chosen Jewish preschool, we light candles, we get challah from our schools, the holidays have become super meaningful…Really having resources, a support structure, and a cohort of other families has been amazing for us."

Lederer, an arts consultant, says their children aren't the only ones who learn Jewishly from the PJ Library books--which include information on the inside flaps about Jewish holidays and concepts. "I used the books as a way for me to gain knowledge about the various holidays, traditions, Hebrew and Yiddish phrases," she said. "I'm also learning a lot along with my kids."  

To learn more about PJ Library, visit www.juf.org/pjlibrary .

PJ Library is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, funded in Chicago by JUF and generous local donors.

The Lederer/Teodosic family are now group leaders in Chicago PJ Library's Gathering for Good, a social club for PJ Library families to volunteer, learn, share, and connect monthly through age-appropriate service projects and holiday celebrations. For more information, email Rachel Rapoport at [email protected] .

Learn more about PJ Library.