For nearly 10 years, the Phoenix division of PJ Library has brought books to families all across the Valley to help them build a personal Jewish library. Recently, the library just hit a new milestone by delivering its 150,000th book on Sept. 17.
The program director of PJ Library Greater Phoenix, Marcy Lewis, said it was an exciting achievement for the organization.
“It was such an inspiring moment knowing that we have sent out 150,000 books in 10 years for Jewish families all over Phoenix,” Lewis said. “When we hit that milestone, we delivered the book to Dr. Joshua and Leah Mondlick and their kids. We made a big event out of it with balloons and it was a lot of fun.”
The book, “Shai’s Shabbat Walk,” is a children’s picture book about a boy named Shai who celebrates Shabbat by going for a walk.
Overall, Phoenix’s PJ Library has delivered books to 3,553 families since it started. It currently delivers books to 1,780 families in the Greater Phoenix area.
Children between the ages of 6 months to 8 years can receive books through the library. Although 8 is technically the cut-off age, PJ Library began PJ Our Way for children 9 to 11 to continue to receive free stories.
PJ Library is a project of the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Originally serving Western Massachusetts only, it was created in December 2005 as a Jewish engagement and literacy program for Jewish and interfaith families with young children. Harold Grinspoon started it so that every Jewish family could have a Jewish library.
Today, PJ Library delivers more than 200,000 free Jewish children’s books and CDs each month to families across the United States and Canada. In total, the literacy program has delivered more than 12 million books.
“Every book comes with these two flaps, and when you open up the book, the inside flap will tell you how this book is Jewish,” Lewis said. “Then the back will tell you how you can incorporate this book into your everyday life.”
The book doesn’t have to be explicitly Jewish, she said. It could even be a Dr. Seuss book that relates to specific Jewish values.
The service is free for families who sign up and is financially supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, as well as other donors.
Delivering 150,000 books and opening the new PJ Our Way chapter are just some of the new milestones for the Phoenix chapter.
In honor of Harold Grinspoon’s 90th birthday, and in recognition of the success PJ Library had in Phoenix, the chapter launched an endowment campaign in partnership with the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
“From PJ Library’s beginnings, we have been consistently impressed by the breadth and depth of its success,” JCF President and CEO Richard Kasper said. “Any tool that helps families create Jewish homes is important, but PJ Library has been particularly good at connecting intermarried and unaffiliated families to Jewish life and to the Jewish community.”
The inaugural donors for this new endowment were Phoenix residents Barbara and Barry Zemel. With this endowment, the local chapter will have the funds to self-sustain and won’t need to rely on fundraisers for future programming. Along with the endowment, PJ Library also received additional funding from donors Marilyn Einstein and Steve Sim to hire two full-time ambassadors.
In 2016, the Phoenix chapter received the PJ Library Implementing Partner Engagement Grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. That grant funded three ambassadors for two years, allowing the library to increase outreach efforts in the East Valley and Central Phoenix neighborhoods.
Lewis said that this time the library chose to focus on the East Valley and West Valley areas because there many Jewish families living in those neighborhoods. Returning ambassador Maureen Brish will serve the East Valley and new hire Meghan Newman-Davies will serve the West Valley.
The ambassador’s job is to help families create meaningful connections with one another in their own neighborhoods. The ambassador focuses on their specific community and tries to have a more personal touch when creating events for families, according to Lewis.
“They’re not supposed to be making these big programs. It’s supposed to be about getting to know the people in the neighborhood,” Lewis said. “So maybe one of them will take a mom out for coffee who just moved into town, for example.”
PJ Library has connected with the community more through a new social media reading hour campaign. Since early summer, PJ Library has had one Jewish community leader read a storybook every Friday through Facebook’s livestreaming program.
“I just thought that it would be neat to have all these Jewish leaders read stories every week, so I put together a signup sheet,” Lewis said. “I did it from mid-August to the end of September, and within an hour every single slot was filled up.”
Readers have included the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Marty Haberer; the executive director of the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics, Wendy Carriere; and Temple Chai Rabbi Bonnie Koppell.
Lewis said that the response to the read-along has been incredible and she didn’t expect to get so many volunteers so quickly. The library has readers scheduled till March 2020. JN