PJ Library in Southern Arizona adapts to pandemic challenges and continues to provide enrichment to families with young children

Families with young children have faced unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Southern Arizona Jewish community agencies and synagogues are proud to be able to provide a variety of resources to support these families, from the beginning of the pandemic and as it has evolved over time. Among the many initiatives available, PJ Library® has stood strong as a source of happiness, fun, and education for families with young children.

PJ Library in Southern Arizona is a member of a national organization that that provides a monthly book subscription encouraging children from birth to eight years old to explore Jewish literature. Beyond receiving age-appropriate books and music, PJ families are invited to engage and learn about Jewish traditions in a hands-on way. Prior to the pandemic, this centered on in-person, face-to-face connection.

Due to the pandemic, PJ Library held their last in-person program in early March 2020. Immediately after, they pivoted to Zoom events and a holiday series called “Holiday! – It’s in the Bag!” Throughout the year, PJ continued to welcome new families to our community, built relationship, provided high quality, inclusive Jewish experiences, empowered parents, gave families opportunities to develop relationships with other families, and connected the families with Jewish organizations in our community.

Over the course of 2020, PJ Library held 15 programs with a total attendance of 362 families. This represents even more programming than in a “normal” year! “At times,” said Mary Ellen Loebl, PJ Library Coordinator, it felt like “we didn’t know when one program ended and the next one began.”

One example was the “Eight Nights of Helping Others” event for Hanukkah. In addition to the “Hanukkah! – It’s In the Bag!” kit filled with activities and goodies, children were taught about kindness, tikkun olam, and Jewish philanthropy by having them place a suggested food item to their bag for each night of Hanukkah. On the eighth night, the bag contained a full day’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner which the kids donated to the charity Youth on Their Own. Through this series, the kids were able to donate 70 bags of food.

PJ Library Southern Arizona also started a private Facebook group for Moms of Twos and Under to give moms/families opportunities to form relationships and support each other.

PJ Library also manages the “Shalom Baby” welcome boxes for new parents. These boxes contain gifts, resources, and information welcoming babies to the world of Jewish life in Southern Arizona. Anyone who has recently given birth or adopted a child – or knows someone who has, can contact to request this service.

In the 2021 program year, PJ Library geared up for a return to in-person programming but was again faced with the challenge of adapting as the Delta variant came into play. Organizers are exploring a variety of models to account for possible scenarios, including hybrid options to allow for different levels of comfort. Safety is at the forefront of planning, both in terms of ensuring adequate security measures as well as COVID precautions.

In partnership with Congregation Anshei Israel and of the newly formed Kol Ami, PJ Library is expanding programming to include appearances from rabbis, cantors, and synagogue educational directors. A six-part series entitled “Jewish Life through Art” is planned, which began with a Rosh Hashanah event involving apple and honey dish kits at which 50 children were in attendance (one-third in-person and two-thirds via Zoom).

Six additional PJ Library events are planned in conjunction with the Northwest division of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, specifically in and for families with young children in the Oro Valley, Marana, and other Northwest regions.

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