January 2016

PJ Library® Launches New Chapter for Jewish Tweens with PJ Our Way

by Yaffi Spodek

A free Jewish book of your choice mailed directly to your house every month? Sounds almost too good to be true, but the newly launched PJ Our Way program provides that and more for local children ages 9-11. A natural extension of PJ Library®, which sends free Jewish books and music to children ages 6 months to 8 years, PJ Our Way is a new pilot program in South Palm Beach County which is also being rolled out in select cities nationwide.

“We are so thrilled to be able to build on our success from PJ Library, and continue to enrich the lives of so many Jewish families each year,” said Elana Ostroff, local PJ Library Director. “Now with the introduction of PJ Our Way, we can engage older children by giving them the opportunity to explore the timeless core values of Judaism through high-quality, age-appropriate books in a fun, creative and interactive way.”

PJ Our Way participants can select one out of four books each month, all reviewed by a panel of PJ educators, parents and kids. Each book is accompanied by a synopsis and author bio, in addition to ratings, reviews and video trailers. Kids can take polls and quizzes, participate in monthly interviews and challenges, and comment on blog posts written by their peers. They can also write reviews and share ideas about the books on a safe website moderated by PJ Our Way educators.

Avi Gordon enjoys a PJ Our Way book

“We were so happy to enroll our son, Avi, in PJ Our Way,” said Marissa Gordon, whose family has been a proud PJ Library member since the program’s inception in South Palm Beach County three years ago. “PJ Our Way launched at a perfect time for us, since Avi just turned 9 and had aged out of PJ Library. He loves to read, especially Jewish-themed books, and he eagerly looks forward to getting new reading material each month. For me, as a parent, it’s wonderful and fulfilling to see my kids getting so excited about the opportunity to learn more about their Jewish identity through PJ’s unique collection of books.”

“I’m so happy that I can choose my own books now,” said Avi, a third grader at a local public school. “I’m also looking forward to connecting online with other kids to discuss what I’m reading and share my reviews with them.”

PJ Our Way also features an innovative parenting blog, where parents are invited to read about each book and find suggestions for family conversations. “These blog posts will give parents the tools to help their children make book choices that are appropriate for their level,” Ostroff added.

Another unique element of PJ Our Way is the Design Team. Every fall, PJ Our Way participants can apply to be part of the program’s national Design Team. Team members have early access to books, and have the opportunity to create content for the website, including videos and reviews. The team works together to interview authors, participate in workshops and lead the conversation amongst their peers.

PJ Library brings pajamas, pizza and mitzvot to Jacobson Family Food Pantry

“We are so excited to invite both new families and PJ Library graduates to register for PJ Our Way,” said Ostroff. “The program fosters a love of reading, and it’s a great way for both kids and their parents to make new friends in the community while connecting in a meaningful way to Judaism and its rich traditions.”

Now in its third year, PJ Library, co-chaired by Joanna Drowos and Ilene Wohlgemuth, has grown exponentially since it began in South Palm Beach County. Over 34,000 PJ Library books have been mailed out to more than 1,400 Jewish families in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Highland Beach. Globally, PJ library has mailed out over eight million books in the United States and Canada and more than 14 million worldwide.

“Over the years, 4,800 children, parents and grandparents have benefitted from our family events and activities, allowing us to embrace and engage the next generation,” said Ostroff.

For many families, PJ Library helps them maintain a strong connection to their Jewish identity.

Eliana and David share a PJ Library book for the holidays

“My daughter Eliana got her first PJ book when she was two years old,” recalled Alina Stanciu of Boca Raton. “Since then, every single month for the last two years, she looks forward to ‘her mail’ from PJ Library, knowing that the next book will bring a wonderful story that we can read and enjoy together while learning about our holidays, challah, mitzvot and our Jewish life. The books, the beautiful events, the monthly calendar of events all over the city -- everything that PJ Library does for the Jewish community makes us feel connected to our tradition, especially in the diaspora. We are so grateful to PJ Library for their amazing dedication and for all the meaningful events that they organize.”

These multi-generational family events are often a highlight of the year for PJ participants. Past events have included interactive concerts featuring kids’ musicians such as PJ Library performers Mama Doni, Rick Recht and Josh & the Jamtones, with face painting, sing-alongs and other family-friendly activities. Festive holiday events -- from sukkah bashes to Purim parties and Chanukah celebrations -- give PJ members a taste of Jewish culture and tradition in a fun, welcoming environment. PJ Library also hosted a Mitzvah day at a local food pantry, in addition to a high tea at Lord & Taylor with American girl “Rebecca Books” author Jacqueline Dembar Greene.

PJ Library Meets American Girl Rebecca Books Author

Most recently, PJ Our Way hosted an exciting kickoff event at Jewish Heritage Night with the Miami Heat on the eighth night of Chanukah and looks forward to planning future programs and events with PJ Our Way authors and more.

The PJ Our Way program is a gift from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and PJ Alliance Partners, with support from the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. The PJ Library South Palm Beach County Partnership is made possible by generous support from the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, as well as generous local donors.

Sign up for PJ Our Way at pjourway.org, and for PJ Library at pjlibrary.org. For more information on PJ Library or PJ Our Way, call Elana Ostroff, PJ Library Director, at 561.852.6080 or email pjlibrary@bocafed.org.