By Shauna Steigerwald | Cincinnati Enquirer
EVEN AS MORE AND MORE readers are abandoning their paperbacks in favor of ereaders, hundreds of local Jewish children are learning about their heritage and the upcoming holiday of Passover through the time-honored tradition of gathering around a book with mom and dad.
Four hundred local kids are among 100,000 across the country to receive free monthly children's books from PJ Library, an international Jewish family engagement program that strives to pass Jewish culture, heritage and values along to young people.
Locally, the Mayerson JCC, Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati run the program, which is funded by Anne Heldman, the Fisher Family (founding sponsor) and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. It launched here in October 2008 with considerable interest, according to Elizabeth Woosley, community educator with Mayerson JCC and the PJ Library coordinator for Cincinnati. In the summer of 2010, Mayerson JCC even added a "PJ Patch," where kids can read a full supply of PJ Library books, to its lobby.
"The PJ Library initiative is really about building a stronger Jewish people one book at a time," Woosley said. "The books engage the kids with playful stories of Judaism. It helps families explore the timeless core values of Judaism and transmit those to the next generation.
"I think that the beauty of PJ Library is that it makes it easier for families to be able to pass [Judaism] on" Woosley said. A book comes to you every month and it has right inside the book what the book is about, the core values of Judaism that it expresses, projects that you can do with your child -- that's an enormous thing for families."
The program hits the youngest members of the Jewish community: Local funding provides books for ages 6 months through 5½ years. (Nationally, PJ Library goes up to age 8; Woosley said the local age will increase if funding becomes available).
"We've found that the younger kids are so excited about their heritage," Woosley said. "To teach to them in creative and hands-on ways continues that excitement-building. The earlier that they learn about their heritage and traditions, the more they learn about it, learn to love it and realize it's part of them."