1/7/2014
Survey of families with Jewish children suggests "do it yourself" Judaism boosts engagement.

Findings from the largest known study of North American families raising Jewish children pose a provocative question: Could DIY Judaism be the answer to concerns about declining Jewish identity and engagement? 

The PJ Library study, "The People of the Book: An Evaluation of the PJ Library Program," surveyed more than 20,000 Jews across North America in 2013, and suggests that meeting families where they live - literally, in the home - is where opportunities for increased engagement and the formation of Jewish cultural identity begins.

"Jews are actually not losing their interest in the Jewish religion and culture but are finding new pathways to engage with their heritage," said Harold Grinspoon, PJ Library founder. "Our survey findings show that people are willing - more than willing, they are eager - to reconnect with Judaism on their own terms. Furthermore, what is starting in the home sparks interest to then connect with the larger Jewish community."

The PJ Library study comes on the heels of another recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center.  That study, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," showed that levels of religious identity are declining among Jews in the U.S.  Findings from the PJ Library study show significant engagement of Jewish families in ways not measured by the Pew study.

Study findings include:

  • Approximately 75 percent of families report that they discuss Jewish-related concepts and values more than they used to because of PJ Library books.
  • 62 percent of families surveyed say PJ Library has increased their families' positive feelings about being Jewish.
  • 58 percent of families report that PJ Library has "moderately" to "greatly" influenced their decisions to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life.
Commissioned by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the study sought to measure the impact of the PJ Library program. The national program works closely with local community partners to distribute Jewish children's literature and music, complete with cultural definitions, tools, and "how-tos."

The books are sent monthly, free of cost to families raising Jewish children ages six months through eight years. Materials contain stories and teachings about holidays, traditions, and timeless Jewish values, like mitzvah.

Overall, the PJ Library program seeks to engage families raising Jewish children by providing tools that promote family conversations and Jewish communal experiences.

The Pew research study asserts that levels of Jewish engagement and identity are in decline, citing that only 39 percent of U.S. Jewish adults say they live in a household where at least one person is a member of a synagogue and that relatively few Jews attach high importance to the religion.

PJ Library believes it has identified a strong alternative pathway to enhance Jewish identity, increase engagement in Jewish life and community, and contribute to a more vibrant North American Jewish community. 

"PJ Library meets families where they are - in the comfort of their own homes. It provides tools that empower parents to be their children's first Jewish educators," said Marcie Greenfield Simons, director of PJ Library. "There is no pressure. Each family's PJ Library experience is their own, and how it influences them going forward is unique. People are turning to 'do-it-yourself' everything, including religion, and Judaism is no different. PJ Library strives to inspire families to embrace Judaism and make it their own, and the evidence shows it is working well."

In addition to the impact in the home, PJ Library is changing the landscape of the organized Jewish community as well.  PJ Library community partners, including  synagogues, Jewish community centers and Federations, report statistically significant improvements in their ability to identity and engage families raising Jewish children.  Eighty percent of PJ Library families are now attending community events, up from 21 percent three years ago.

In 2005, PJ Library began distributing 200 books; in December 2013, that number grew to 125,000 books per month. Since 2010, the number of North American communities offering PJ Library has grown by 124 percent and total subscriptions have grown by 85 percent.

About PJ Library

PJ Library has distributed almost five million books to date, currently operating in over 200 Jewish communities across North America, reaching the families of more than 125,000 children a month. The program is a powerful tool for engaging families in the joys of Jewish life and traditions, building strong Jewish identity and connections to Jewish community. For more information or to learn how to bring PJ Library to your community, visit www.pjlibrary.org or e-mail pjlibrary@hgf.org.

About the Harold Grinspoon Foundation

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation enhances the vibrancy of Jewish life in North America, Israel and beyond through grant programs and initiatives that support Jewish values and nurture the development of strong Jewish identities in young people, adults and families.