AS THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTERS Greater Boston works to connect with Jewish families that have spread geographically throughout the Boston area, the organization has found help through unusual means - a free collection of children's books that are mailed monthly to the homes of participating families.
With titles such as "Chicken Soup by Heart" and "A Mountain of Blintzes," the books cover Jewish traditions such as Bikkur Cholim, visiting the sick; and Shavuot, a Jewish holiday celebrated in May or early June. The books are written for children from 6 months to 8 years old.
The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston has raised $475,000 since 2007 to buy the books and distributes them to 2,000 children in the Boston area. It costs the Community Center $40 per child for an annual subscription and the organization plans to double the number of children receiving books over the next three years, said Betsy Jacobs, chief operating officer.
"What we've discovered in the last five to 10 years is that now, Jewish families live in all kinds of communities, not just a few. So from our point of view, this program helps us identify families wherever they live and serve them," she said.
The books in the program come through The PJ Library, created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, based in West Springfield and still the primary underwriter for the cost of the books. The foundation has spent $7 million on books alone since the start of the program in 2005, said Adrian Bailey, director of operations.
When it started, the library was distributing 200 books per month. This year, the library will distribute 63,000 books each month to children in the United States and Canada.
The library buys an average of between 8,000 and 12,000 books at a time - 88 different titles a year - and works with about 50 publishers in the United States, Canada and Israel, some of them Judaica publishers, but also mainstream publishers, such as Random House. For example, the library and Random House did a print run together of the book "Nosh, Shlep, Schluff, BabYiddish" by Laurel Snyder, a baby's Yiddish book, said Bailey.
And publisher Marshall Cavendish is expected to use The PJ Library book selection of Jewish children's books and launch a line next fall.
The PJ Library is considered a "significant distributor" of Jewish children's books, and the popularity of its book series fits with the trend of growth in Jewish publishing, said Joni Sussman, publisher at Kar-Ben Publishing, which publishes Jewish children's books. The PJ Library has helped raise the profile of Jewish children's books, Sussman said.
For its part, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston has found the book series helpful in bringing back a sense of community among Jewish families that now have largely dispersed.
"Back in the old days, I think Jewish families might have specifically chosen to live in communities where there was a synagogue and where Jewish institutions existed," Jacobs said. "Now you really have to go where they are. And The PJ Library program comes right to your mailbox."
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