1,400 Jewish Youngsters in Valley Beneficiaries of Free Book Service

4/2/2012

By Gregan Wingert | Las Vegas Sun

BROTHERS ARI AND YOSEF FEILER, 5 and 6, are a playful pair who don't usually simmer down until they're dressed in their Spiderman or dinosaur-printed pajamas and able to read a bedtime story.

For the most part, those nightly stories are from books that have special meaning both to the boys and their parents. The boys delight in the books because they're mailed directly to them; their parents do because the books help connect the kids to their Jewish faith.

"I'm not allowed to open their mail," said the boys' mother, Annmarie Feiler.

She wasn't joking.

More than three years ago, she signed up her two boys to receive books from PJ Library, a nonprofit program that mails books and music to Jewish families. Through the program, a colorfully illustrated book telling a story about Jewish traditions and culture is mailed each month to children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years old.

"It means it's like I get some candy," said Ari, his mother adding that the books are a treat for her kids.

Each month two envelopes --one addressed to Ari and one addressed to Yosef -- arrive at the Feilers' home.

This month, books relating specifically to Passover have been sent to nearly 100,000 children in the United States and in Canada. PJ Library's sister program in Israel, Sifriyat Pijama, adds another 120,000 preschool-aged children to the mailing list.

PJ Library runs on grants and donations so families are not charged for the books and materials. The Feiler home is one of 1,400 in the Las Vegas Valley taking part in the international program.

"Where are you going to get books like this but PJ Library?" Annmarie asked. "They say things like 'Oy vey!'"

Books have been provided to local families for four years now because of a partnership among the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Greenspun Family Foundation, founded by the Greenspun family, which own Greenspun Media Group, parent company of the Las Vegas Sun.

PJ Library was created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which supports organizations and programs focused on Jewish learning to children, adults and families. The program was inspired by Dolly Parton's Imagination Library that puts books in the hands of underprivileged children living in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

"We're trying to create community, not just provide the resources," said Elliot Karp, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.

"It's the children teaching their parents, and the parents teaching their children," he said.

Reading the books together enables children and their parents to explore their faith and heritage. Annmarie and her husband, Andrew, used to read the stories to their sons when they were younger. Now the boys like to read on their own or occasionally have their big sister Mackenzie Kahl, 15, read to them.

Books tell stories that include Jewish traditions and holidays.

"That's not something kids would come across in any mainstream store," Annmarie said.

The Feiler book collection includes dozens of PJ Library books, such as The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah, Chicken Man and a series of stories following Sammy Spider, a fictional character who goes on adventures around different Jewish holidays, such as Passover, which this year begins on April 6 and ends the evening of April 14. Passover celebrates the Jewish people's liberation from enslavement in Egypt.

When Annmarie asked her sons what their favorite part of Passover was, Yosef said he enjoyed the food.

Ari with a big grin answered, "Hanukkah."

Along with Passover, another upcoming event on the family's calendar is on April 29. That day the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada will celebrate Israel Independence Day from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with live entertainment, a concert and scavenger hunt at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. The event is free and open to the public.

"People are looking for ways to connect to their community," Karp said.

Hands-on events are hosted through partnerships formed among Jewish community programs and organizations, Karp said. Recently the Jewish community played host to a reading hour with PJ Library after a group of children where taught how to make their own matzah.

When Yosef and Ari were younger, they would dress in their pajamas and attend reading hours at the community center.

PJ Library aims to make the program available globally. In May, the organization will mail out its three-millionth book.

For more information on PJ Library visit www.pjlibrary.org.