9/19/2009
The PJ Library program expands to Israel with children's books in Hebrew.

 AFULA, ISRAEL, Sept 2009 - The award-winning PJ Library program, which sends Jewish children's books monthly to participating families in communities across the United States and Canada, is expanding to Israel this month with books in Hebrew.

The program, known in Israel as Sifriyat Pijama (Hebrew for Pajama Library) will benefit some 3,000 kindergarten children, mostly in underprivileged northern parts of Israel. Every month participants will receive a free children's book at school to take home and read with their parents. The books come with guides for parents to help them engage in discussion and activities with their children that focus on the Jewish values of the books.

"I have a passion for the Jewish people and a passion for Israel. I think it is important for children in both America and Israel to learn about Jewish values. It just seemed right that children in Israel, too, should benefit from the program," explained Harold Grinspoon, founder of The PJ Library®.

Although Israeli children often know more about Jewish holidays than their American counterparts, Grinspoon discovered in conversations with Israeli educators that Israeli children are often unaware of what Judaism has to say about universal values. On frequent trips to Israel, he also heard teachers bemoan the dearth of books in many of their young charges' homes, particularly in peripheral areas of Israel.

"Sifriyat Pijama is designed to address both education in Jewish values in Israel and reading in the family," explained Galina Vromen, head of Harold Grinspoon Foundation's operations in Israel and director of Sifriyat Pijama.

Grinspoon, who launched The PJ Library in his native Massachusetts in 2005, first got the idea from country singer Dolly Parton. He brought Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a literacy program that distributes books to inner-city children, to Western Massachusetts. "It occurred to me - this is the ideal project to adapt to the Jewish community," he recalled. Grinspoon knew that reading stories and listening to music are among the most powerful childhood learning experiences. Parents and children have warm memories of that special time before bed where snuggled together, they end the day with a book. He decided to turn these moments into "Jewish moments." The program used the acronym "PJ" - short for "pajamas" - to stress the magic of bedtime. The PJ Library operates in more than 110 Jewish communities across North America, reaching families of more than 52,000 children, ages six months to eight years. It has won the prestigious Slingshot Award for innovation in Jewish programming.

"The Israeli version, Sifriyat Pijama, is a synthesis of The PJ Library and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library," explained Vromen. "It creates Jewish moments like The PJ Library, but, often, the population we are working with is similar to the families served by Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. We are distributing the books across the board in the communities where we work - to rich and poor, religious and non-religious."

In its first year, Sifriyat Pijama will involve children in a disadvantaged part of Israel with which the Harold Grinspoon Foundation has a long-standing relationship - Afula, the Gilboa and Upper Nazareth - as well as kindergartens in the Tali (Enhanced Judaism Studies) school network. In addition, with co-funding from the Moriah Foundation, a few schools with a predominantly Ethiopian immigrant population in Netanya will receive books, as will afterschool Tzipora Centers run primarily for Ethiopian immigrants by the Eli Wiesel Foundation. In Israel, a title a month over nine months will be sent to kindergartens, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Education. Teachers introduce the book, and hand out a copy to each child to take home and keep. They may also do additional activities around the book in the classroom.

A team of expert educators -- from the Tali (Enhanced Judaism Studies) school network, Beit Midrash Elul, the Midrasha at Oranim, the Center for Education Technology, Matan Women's Institute for Jewish Study and the Ministry of Education - read some 180 commercially available books before coming up with the final list of nine high-quality titles, aimed for five year olds. "With some of the books the connection to Jewish values and concepts is very obvious, but in most of them it is not. For example, we use a folktale about a carpenter who builds a bridge instead of a wall between two friends to explore the concept in Judaism of rodef shalom [pursue peace]," Vromen explained. In the future, Sifriyat Pijama hopes to offer books aimed at three and four-year olds as well, according to Vromen. "Like The PJ Library in North America, expanding the program in Israel in the long term will depend on finding partners willing to assume the costs of the books. We can offer a great ready-made list, economies of scale on book prices and handle distribution."

Sifriyat Pijama and The PJ Library are programs of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. For more information please about Sifriyat Pijama contact Galina Vromen, director of Israel programs and grants, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. She can be reached at galina@hgf.org or 1-413-439-1951 for callers in the U.S. and 054-789-1951 for callers in Israel. For more information about The PJ Library contact pjlibrary@hgf.org or visit www.pjlibrary.org.

About the Harold Grinspoon Foundation The Harold Grinspoon Foundation enhances the vibrancy of Jewish life through funding programs and institutions that directly transmit Jewish learning to young people, adults, and families in Western Massachusetts, nationally and in Israel. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation's innovative North American programs include The PJ Library® and the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy. 

Visit Sifriyat Pijama's website for more information (available in Hebrew, English, and Russian).