Israeli-American and Jewish-American families across the United States are participating in a new children's program through which they are mailed monthly -- for free -- a quality Jewish children's book in Hebrew.
Sifriyat Pijama B'America (SP-BA) provides an opportunity for young Jewish children, ages three to six, with or without Israeli roots, living in the United States, to sign up to receive free storybooks in Hebrew. The program is designed to strengthen participants' Hebrew language proficiency and connections with Jewish values and culture, as well as develop a channel through which young Jewish children can spend more quality time at bedtime with their families in a positive, educational manner.
"At a time when many hundreds of thousands of Israelis have moved to the U.S. and settled with their families here, with increased assimilation away from Israeli and Jewish tradition, the value of Sifriyat Pijama B'America, a program steeped in Jewish culture and Hebrew language, cannot be stressed enough," said Adam Milstein, a Los Angeles-based philanthropist and the project's co-founder. "This is a program designed for our youngest Israeli-Americans -- who have at least one Hebrew-speaking parent -- as an integral way to maintain, strengthen and deepen ties to Jewish principles and interest in Hebrew as the language of the Jewish people and in Jewish education more generally, from an early age.
"This isn't a process that happens just through listening to bedtime stories in Hebrew; what we are truly seeking to do is to build communities with Jewish day schools as their focal point and help Israeli-Americans -- especially those who are unaffiliated with Jewish institutions -- to connect with Jewish life and Jewish education."
Inspired by PJ Library, SP-BA is unique in its objective of strengthening local Jewish communities across the country by bringing unaffiliated Israeli-Americans who are often not connected to the mainstream Jewish community into the Jewish day school environment. By establishing relationships with about 30 affiliated Jewish day schools across the country, including San Diego Jewish Academy, the idea is to motivate families who otherwise haven't become a part of the local day school community to feel welcome in the schools and to come to them for Jewish community events at no charge. Such events will include group readings and other activities that bring the books to life, such as costume parties and plays.
Families living in areas with one or more of the schools officially affiliated with the program are encouraged to register at scheduled registration events across the country; spots will fill up quickly and are based on a first-come, first-served basis. Children need not be enrolled in an affiliated school to participate in SP-BA, but the registration events are an important first step in greater involvement in the local Israeli-American and Jewish communities. Families also can register online; however, website registration is limited in number of enrollments available and is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. In the fall, as described above, affiliated schools will host monthly or bi-monthly group reading events and activities to bring participating families together; families not yet registered to receive books will have the opportunity to sign up then, as well.
Each year, materials delivered include nine high-quality children's books and a music CD or DVD. The selections are chosen by the Israel Ministry of Education and a committee of experts in early childhood and Jewish education. The curriculum is composed of popular storybooks by Jewish authors in Israel and the U.S. -- that teach Jewish values on a universal level --- to which children everywhere can relate. A key part of SP-BA is the inclusion of Jewish values and traditions in the content of the stories, so as bring Judaism into children's lives at an early age. Each book or CD is accompanied by a parent guide to help parents further engage their children through activities and discussions. All families with at least one Hebrew-speaking parent who are raising Jewish children between ages three and six are invited to enroll. When families enroll, they will be signed up to receive books for two years and can enroll again after the first two years if they still have children in the three-to-six age range. Children already receiving books through PJ Library are also eligible to enroll in SP-BA.
SP-BA is a program of the Israeli-American Leadership Council (ILC), a nonprofit working to build an active Israeli-American community and to ensure the Jewish identity of the next generation, strengthen the State of Israel and provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community, in partnership with: The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, which serves to educate young professionals and campus leaders to advocate for the State of Israel and the Jewish people today; The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, committed to charitable giving, primarily in the Jewish world; and the Avi-Chai Foundation, a private foundation committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people.
Through incorporating the tradition of bedtime stories shared with family through short storybooks that bring a lasting appreciation of Jewish heritage to young children, the program aspires to establish Hebrew as the language of Jews living in the United States while bringing Israeli-Americans closer to Jewish life and education. The program hopes to foster a love for reading, an appreciation for Jewish values and culture, a strong Jewish identity, memorable quality time with family, a community of Hebrew readers and lifelong Jewish learners, within the larger Israeli-American community, and ultimately greater enrollment and involvement of Israeli-American families in American Jewish day schools.
Rabbi Alan Zelenetz, Dean of Jewish Studies at Beit Rabban Day School in New York, shares his excitement for the program, "Whether we think of Hebrew as the first language of the Jewish soul or the second native language of every Diaspora Jew, or as both the historic and the eternal language of the Jewish people, we must strive to see the language, in all its forms, assume a deserved primacy in Jewish education, ultimately globally but, in terms of the current reach of the Sifriyat Pijama initiative especially, at first, in the schools and homes of both American Jews and Israeli-American Jews across the United States.
Affiliated schools hosting registration events at one or more schools in the following cities or areas are: Bergen County, N.J., Boston, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Chicago, Essex County, N.J., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Other cities with affiliated schools that have yet to plan registration events are: Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Long Island, Phoenix and San Francisco.
"The number of participants in Sifriyat Pijama B'America is growing exponentially," Adam Milstein said of what was started as a pilot program last year. "When we started out last year, we had a goal of reaching 1,000 families, and a few weeks later, we already had 2,500 families registered with 2,000 of those receiving the books on a monthly basis now. We are thrilled to have secured funding to be able to expand beyond Jewish homes into schools, and to reach an additional 4,000 families this year."