Five Million Free Kid’s Books

Purim: Attack of the Happy Kids by Flavio~ via Flickr

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

You would think that Jews, who are called “The People of the Book” by the Qur’an, would have lots of Jewish books for their children.

But there are many Jews whose homes lack even a few Jewish kid’s books. This is especially true for Jews who live in remote areas or have a spouse who is not Jewish. But for them things are changing.

A recent report carried by the Religious News Service relates how more than 10 years ago, Harold Grinspoon learned that Dolly Parton, who grew up in a poor home with no books, gives away thousands of books each month as part of her “Imagination Library” literacy project.

Grinspoon signed on to help her, sending books to kids in western Massachusetts, where he lives. Then he decided to start his own free book project, the PJ Library, for Jewish kids who might not know much about Jewish values or Jewish holidays.

“I love the Jewish people,” said Grinspoon, 84, who worries about rising rates of intermarriage among Jews. “If I can bring something warm and fuzzy in the form of the PJ Library into the homes of Jewish children, then that’s a good place for me to be,” he said.

Now 9 years old, the PJ Library — which stands for “pajamas,” because many PJ books are read at bedtime — recently gave out its 5 millionth book in North America. Grinspoon delivered it himself to a 4-year-old named Jake in Natick, Mass.

That book was one of 130,000 books the PJ Library mails to homes across North America each month, for which the Harold Grinspoon Foundation pays approximately $4 million a year. Those funds are matched by local Jewish organizations in each community served by the PJ Library.

These include many areas with tiny Jewish communities, such as Zion National Park where my granddaughters, the only Jewish children in 50 miles, live.

A Spanish version of the PJ library just started in Mexico and Grinspoon wants to bring the PJ Library to Russia — a country with a large Jewish populations where Jewish children were cut off from Jewish education for over 70 years.

In Israel, both Muslims and Jews receive books; in Arabic for the Muslims and in Hebrew for the Jews.

In the U. S. many of those who sign up for the PJ Library, are non-Jews who are or were married to Jews.

The sign-up form asks for little more than an address and the ages of the children in a household, so that the library can send them age-appropriate books. Anyone can sign up online.

Marcie Greenfield Simons, the PJ Library’s director, said a new study commissioned by the Grinspoon Foundation of 20,000 American Jewish families that receive the free books shows they are doing their job.

Nearly 58 percent said the program has moderately or greatly influenced their decisions “to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life.”

And more than 62 percent said it “increased their families’ positive feelings about being Jewish.”

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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