Local | Religion & Jewish Life

PJ Library connects local families to Jewish life

PJ Library events and activities, such as building model Seder plates with Legos, often draw large crowds. (Debe Campbell/AJP)
PJ Library programs encourage one-on-one interaction with parents and children, as well as interaction among the children. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

PJ Library is a national program that encourages local Jewish families with young children to explore Jewish values and culture through books. Coordinated by Mary Ellen Loebl at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, the free program sends an age-appropriate Jewish-content book monthly to 740 children between the ages of six months to eight years enrolled in Southern Arizona. Since its local inception in 2009, the program has served 1,761 children, enrolling 52 new participants this year. The stepping-stone program for older kids, PJ Our Way, reaches more than 90 tweens who choose their own chapter book each month.

PJ Library additionally conducts interactive programming and events to engage children and families in hands-on Jewish learning, often collaborating with community partners and synagogues. The program is involved with tot, holiday, and special Shabbat services at Congregation Anshei Israel, Congregation Bet Shalom, Temple Emanu-El, Congregation Or Chadash, Congregation Chaverim, Congregation Chofetz Chayim, and the Ruth & Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life in Northwest Tucson.

Story time is usually included in PJ Library programs. Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz reads “Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah” by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo, during a PJ Library Hanukkah celebration event. (MaryEllen Loebl)

The past year, special events also included Cat in the Hut, Splish-Splash in the Sukkah, Two by Two at the Zoo, Tu B’Shevat and Hanukkah celebrations, Lego Passover, Kids Helping Kids, the Israel Festival, and activities at Tucson Festival of Books and the Tucson Hebrew Academy STEM Festival. PJ Library and PJ Our Way connect with parents and kids via a monthly e-newsletter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. PJ Library in Southern Arizona also has a Pinterest page of recipe and craft ideas.

PJ Library began Shabbat Adventures with Friends in 2018 to encourage Jewish families to reach out to other families in the local community over a Shabbat dinner. Host families commit to holding dinners for two to four families new to the community. Hosts receive a stipend for costs, including challah, flowers, dinner, and activities plus supplies to make the event a success. The program recommences in September.

A recent local PJ Library survey discovered positive responses from participating parents. Surveyed parents say PJ Library has:

• been a valuable parenting tool — 98 percent

• increased their confidence to engage with children regarding Jewish topics, traditions, values, and customs — 96 percent

• increased interest in connecting more to local Jewish organizations, activities, and people — 68 percent

• influenced decisions to enroll children in Jewish summer day or overnight camp — 30 percent

• influenced decisions to enroll children in Jewish after-school or weekend programs — 28 percent

• influenced decisions to enroll children in a Jewish day school – 22 percent

In Southern Arizona, the Coalition for Jewish Education, with generous support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, sponsors the program in partnership with the national Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Local sponsors also include the Einstein-Sim, Loebl, Margolis, Rosenzweig, and Viner families.

If you have questions, want to join any of the programs, or need additional information, please contact  Loebl at meloebl@jfsa.org or call 577-9393, ext. 8443.