A Beacon That Burns

Leaving a Legacy Through PJ Library

By Ida and Sam Switzer


Growing up in a small town in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, holidays were very special. Our small community of Jewish families was extremely close-knit. We both attended a parochial Jewish school and were comfortable with and knowledgeable about our heritage, history, and identity. We were surrounded by extended family that still lived with Jewish traditions, celebrated Shabbat and Passover, and had a burning passion for the new state of Israel.

At that time, there were two Jewish day schools, three synagogues, and a small central auditorium at the old Hebrew day school that served as a community center for sports and teen gatherings. Our community eventually would boast a stand-alone community center, at least two more synagogues, a vibrant women’s network of Council and Hadassah chapters, and a strong Jewish Federation that fostered an active and involved community during the best years of growth our city and country had ever seen – and we were the beneficiaries.

Coming home for the holidays had always been a tradition, and I am struck by how different it is now. We have two sons: One lives in Calgary with his wife and two adorable children, and one lives in Seattle with his wife and new baby. Our grandchildren’s education and opportunities to learn about their culture and heritage are very different from the hands-on education we experienced when we were children. We were surrounded by the old European customs and language. We did Jewish; it was who we were.

We have watched PJ Library welcome many new families into our community who wish to remain secular but maintain ties to their Jewish roots. The Jewish community center and especially PJ Library have buoyed participation in Jewish culture, music, and celebration of the holidays. In our own community, PJ Library hosts holiday events where children, parents, and grandparents come together to mark Purim, Hanukkah, Simchat Torah, and Passover and to sing celebratory songs and taste the foods characteristic of those special occasions.

Learning about one’s roots is both meaningful and necessary for building a child’s identity and confidence; parents and grandparents can foster this aspect of a child’s growth and development. We were lucky to have received this gift naturally from our own families, but even for us, making Judaism relevant to our family has been an evolving art.

Having completed our legacy donations, Sam and I have chosen to highlight PJ Library. We have been strong supporters of our still small but caring community that struggles to maintain passion for our roots and institutions, and we see PJ Library as a beacon that burns with a compelling flame for the continuance of our heritage.