By Rachel Gross Weinstein
After a long day, many of us enjoy curling up in bed with a good book. Now, bedtime can also become educational for children and their parents as they read books about Jewish values and traditions.
This happens through the PJ Library, (PJ stands for pajamas), a national book program made possible the Harold Grinspoon Foundation designed to strengthen the identities of Jewish families and their relationship to the Jewish community. The PJ Library offers free, high quality books and music each month to more than 75,000 children in 140 communities across the United States, Canada and Israel.
It will soon be available in Dallas by a grant from the Mankoff Family Foundation. Children ages 6-months-old to 6-years-old are eligible to enroll and will receive a book or music in the mail each month. A community-wide mailing will go out in July and families will be able to sign up then, with the first books distributed in August.
Meyer Denn, executive director of the Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, where the program is housed, said the purpose is for families to connect and discuss Jewish values.
“The idea is for parents to engage their children in conversations, and it creates another portal of entry for being Jewish,” he said. “These books have proven successful in other communities. Jewish values are something we can all agree on, whether
we are Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, and that’s why the program is so successful.”
He added that the goal is for 1,400 kids to sign up during the first year.
The books are chosen by a selection committee from the best of Jewish children’s books and music. All are age appropriate, have colorful illustrations and come with reading guides for discussion and activities.
The national PJ Library pays for 60 percent of costs, while the individual communities are responsible for the other 40 percent. Joy and Ron Mankoff, who are funding the Dallas program, said they chose to support the PJ Library because they believe it is a wonderful way to maximize Jewish learning.
“When we heard about this, it touched our hearts,” Mrs. Mankoff said. “This program is about the continuity of Judaism. What I love is that the books speak about mitzvot, tzedakah and tikkun olam. These values are important to children’s growth and we believe many people will benefit from the books.”
Mr. Mankoff added that another goal is for the PJ Library to be a resource for mixed marriages so a non-Jewish parent can become educated on Jewish content and have meaningful experiences with their kids.
He believes that by learning Jewish values early on, children will develop a stronger Jewish identity.
“This is also an opportunity for parents to learn and ask questions,” he said. “Religion is about teaching ethics and values. Judaism has a wonderful message, and we don’t always share that with children early on. At a young age, they are most receptive to learning values that are portrayed in the books.”
Rivae Balkin-Kliman, PJ Library community coordinator, said she plans to host events where families can unite and share their thoughts about the books. She hopes that as more young families move to the Dallas area, they will be impacted by the program.
“This is exciting and I believe we will be able to reach a lot of people,” she said. “With everyone being so busy today, this is a great way to bring Judaism into the home and have interaction among families. The fact that there is no cost for it is amazing. There is no reason not to sign up.”
The Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County has had the PJ Library since 2006 and more than 100 kids have signed up for it. Jennifer and Hal Ratner’s 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, has been receiving the books since she was 3-years-old.
Jennifer said they always look forward to the books arriving and she has devoted an entire bookshelf in their home to Jewish literature. She added that they have great family discussions and believes the program has been beneficial.
“All of the books have different Jewish topics and enable good conversations centered around Judaism,” she said. “There is nothing better than a bedtime story with Jewish content. Everything about the program is well thought out and put together and it’s wonderful for any community. I feel fortunate that we have been able to benefit from it.”