By Rachel Kozupsky
DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS, PJ LIBRARY
PROUD NEW PJ LIBRARY PARENT TO NOA, BORN MAY 2020
Some elements of PJ Library are the same around the world. Each month, the books arrive like clockwork. They’re always a gift – families never have to pay. And they’re always high quality, inviting organic Jewish conversations between parents and children.
Beyond that? PJ Library is growing quickly, and with that growth comes new challenges. The program has to be adapted to make sure all children around the world have a similar PJ Library experience, no matter where they happen to be.
PJ Library families are located in some pretty far-flung places. The program is available in more than 25 countries and shares books in seven languages. The various cultural nuances and sensitivities can’t be pinned down to a number, however, which is why offering PJ Library to so many communities is not as simple as translating a title from one language to another. The books aren’t one-size-fits-all. PJ Library book selection committees make sure the titles sent are relevant and appropriate for each audience.
Take Rivka’s First Thanksgiving, a favorite in the US. Russian children have never heard of the Pilgrims, and kids in Australia don’t need stuffing recipes. Meanwhile, many books in Hebrew rely on puns using classic Hebrew liturgy. When you translate them to a different language, they don’t have the same effect.
The language barriers will get more complex this year as PJ Library partners launch a Portuguese-language program in Brazil and a German-language program in Germany, which will also reach families in Austria and Switzerland.
Just as the books are not one-size-fits-all, people’s mailboxes also are a variety of shapes and sizes. In the US and Canada, PJ Library uses the local postal service to mail books directly to families, but that’s not practical everywhere. In many places, the mail system – or even the size of the typical mailbox – requires partnering with schools or local organizations to distribute the books to children. Sometimes it takes surprisingly creative problem-solving to ensure books get where they need to go. For example, for two years families in Shanghai received books only after they were picked up by community members in Hong Kong, who then carried the books back with them to Shanghai – even braving protests to do so.
But here’s another constant: Regardless of where families live and how different the Jewish communities are, we know that families value the program and its impact:
- 89% of families in Russia said that PJ Library has increased their knowledge or familiarity with Jewish traditions, values, and/or customs.
- 91% of families in Australia and New Zealand said that PJ Library has supported them in having conversations about Jewish traditions, values, and/or customs.
- 86% of respondents in the Spanish-language program indicated that PJ Library has supported their family in spending quality time together.
Those numbers speak for themselves, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with various Jewish communities around the world, especially since many of these families may not otherwise have a connection to their local Jewish community or Jewish traditions. It is inspiring to see firsthand the impact PJ Library books are having on future generations of Jewish families in places like Russia and Dubai.
Ensuring that families continue to receive the books and resources they count on each month is more challenging than ever, but it has never been more important. With the support of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the PJ Library Alliance, and many philanthropists around the world, PJ Library will continue to be a consistent presence for all families who wish to explore Jewish life, no matter where they are.