Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Survey: PJ Library Orlando is strengthening Jewish values, engagement


PJ Library books are sent free to children ages 6 months to 8 years. In Orlando, 540 families receive the books.

A popular Jewish children's book program is helping to preserve the richness and vibrancy of Jewish culture, one book at a time.

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. That subscriber base includes 540 families in Central Florida, where PJ Library is administered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.

Books are sent to children ages 6 months to 8 years, with each subscriber receiving a title carefully selected for high-quality content and age-level appropriateness.

A newly released national survey found that Orlando families who participate in the PJ Library program say it has influenced or supported how they talk about and practice Jewish traditions in their home. Ninety-eight percent of local survey respondents say PJ Library helps them have conversations about Jewish traditions, values and customs with their children.

PJ Library's Triennial Family Survey, which was released Tuesday, found 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. In fact, in Greater Orlando 100 percent of interfaith families who responded say PJ Library has increased their confidence to engage their children around Jewish traditions, values and customs.

"Working to preserve a strong Jewish community for future generations is at the heart of everything we do at the Foundation and through PJ Library," said Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library. "Books are a natural way to invite people into a global community and to pass values and traditions on to the next generation, ensuring our children and their children grow up connected to their Jewish heritage."

To ensure that parents are equipped to talk with their children about Jewish values and traditions, PJ Library includes information for parents on the inside flaps of each book, and provides tips and resources on its blog. This approach has resonated with parents, with 91 percent of Orlando respondents calling the program a valuable parenting tool and 92 percent saying it has helped them think about the kind of Jewish practice they want to have in their home.

In addition to creating connections between families, PJ Library is fostering meaningful communal ties in Orlando.

"By nearly every measure, PJ Library has been a valuable engagement tool for our community," said Jennifer Cohen, the Federation's Director of Outreach and Engagement, who coordinates the program locally. "It was especially heartening to see that 78 percent of the Orlando survey respondents are interested in getting more connected to local Jewish activities, organizations and people as a direct result of their positive PJ Library experiences."

Through its PJ Library/Shalom Families program, the Federation gives PJ Library participants the opportunity to connect with other young families through regular community events, many of which incorporate a PJ Library story, character or value into the theme. The most recent was a Tikkun Olam Park Cleanup Day on Sunday at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford.

The Jewish Federation's PJ Library/Shalom Families events bring young families together for uniquely Jewish experiences. Many of the programs incorporate a lesson, story or character from PJ Library books.

Under Cohen's leadership, community engagement among young Jewish families has thrived, with many recent events filled to capacity.

Clearly, Cohen says, PJ Library is about much more than books.

"We're providing our young families with the Jewish experience, which is at the heart of the Federation's mission," Cohen says.

The survey found that in Orlando, 94 percent of people who attended a PJ Library/Shalom Families program were "very likely" to recommend them to a friend or family member, far outpacing the national average of 77 percent for similar-size communities.

"We love welcoming 'first-timers' to Federation community events-48 new families so far this year," Cohen says. "They enjoy the experience so much that they come back-and they bring their friends. That's how a community grows, and we're so glad to have PJ Library as a tool to spur that growth."

Parents of children 6 months to 8 years old can request a PJ Library subscription at http://www.pjlibrary.org.


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