Each month, white and blue envelopes hit the mailboxes of more than 6,000 Chicago area households. The recipients—children between the ages of 6 months - 8 years—excitedly open their packages, eager to find out which new book has been mailed to them by the PJ Library, a free program that sends high-quality, age-appropriate Jewish bedtime books and music to families each month. Created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, funded by donors and implemented locally by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the PJ Library has sent the gift of Jewish books and music to over 10,000 children in the Chicago area since its implementation here in Chicago a little over 3 years ago.
Of the several thousand Chicago families that are touched by PJ Library's Jewish books and music, more than two-thirds report reading the books at least once a week. For many Chicagoans, PJ Library is an entrée into Jewish life, with three-quarters of participants responding that PJ Library increased their interest in connecting to the Jewish community. The Vaughn family of Plainfield, Ill. attributePJ Library for a ripple effect of Jewish exposure. "Shortly after signing up for PJ Library, I received an email about the JUF Right Start program. I called the Right Start coordinator who talked to me about Jewish preschools near us. I didn't even know that Jewish preschools existed," said Noell Vaughn. "Because of our Jewish preschool experience, we are now members of the temple in Naperville and my daughter is going to Sunday School there. I credit the PJ Library for that introduction."
The PJ Library program reaches out to Jewish families with young children to help create stronger Jewish homes that foster children's curiosity about their Jewish heritage and help families explore their Jewish identity. "By getting connected to PJ Library, I was able to give my daughter something I didn't have growing up—a comfort level not only with our religion but a network of Jewish friends.," Vaughn said. "As an interfaith family, living in an area where there are few Jews, I'm so grateful to the PJ Library for helping our family make this connection and become involved with the Jewish community."
For more information about PJ Library, eligibility, and to sign up to receive your free books and music visit www.juf.org/pjlibrary, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 357-4831.
The PJ Library is part of JUF's Joyfully Jewish Family Programs and is a gift to Chicago-area families from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, local donors, and your local early childhood Jewish educators.
Amy Berger is assistant director, Leadership Development & Community Outreach for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.