PJ Library for All
Why in-faith versus interfaith doesn’t benefit families
By Winnie Sandler Grinspoon
PRESIDENT, HAROLD GRINSPOON FOUNDATION
During the early days of PJ Library, I got a call from my mother. She was curious to know more about the Jewish storybook project I was working on. I started sending books to her each month and we’d talk about them. She would tell me which stories she really liked, which books had the best illustrations, and which reading guide on the book flap was particularly helpful in explaining a Jewish concept. She shared how much she wished PJ Library had existed when she was a young mother, new to Judaism and trying to create a Jewish homelife for us kids.
Both of my parents are Jewish, but my mother was raised in another faith tradition and converted to Judaism as an adult. She would tell you that not having grown up Jewish was a factor when it came time to create Jewish connections and memories for her children. She didn’t have her own memories of Jewish holidays or practices to fall back on. My dad could easily lead the seder and say the Hebrew blessings, but my mother had to research all the other details that went into each holiday celebration.
We learned from the most recent PJ Library Triennial evaluation that half (51%) of PJ Library families are headed by a parent who didn’t grow up Jewish. Respondents indicated that their households include:
- A partner who is a different faith/no faith, and/or
- At least one partner who is Jewish by choice (someone who has converted to Judaism).
For context, half of all PJ Library households in the US and Canada equates to more than 80,000 households, and 94% of all respondent households reported that they are raising their kids Jewish either exclusively (77%) or with another religion (17%). It is important for us to consider, then, that there are tens of thousands of parents among the PJ Library community who didn't grow up Jewish and are now raising Jewish kids. Those parents are creating Jewish childhoods for their children without the benefit of having grown up around Jewish celebrations and experiences.
It’s simple to think of the Jewish community in binary terms between in-faith Jewish families and interfaith families in which one of two parents is Jewish. The assumption is that the interfaith families require more resources to help them raise Jewish kids. But if we limit our approach to PJ Library along in-faith versus interfaith lines, we miss important truths.
On a survey, my parents would clearly fall in the in-faith Jewish household category. But in terms of approaching Jewish parenting, my mom would tell you she was in a different place than other Jewish parents. A basic in-faith versus interfaith view wouldn’t capture this difference.
My mother wanted to feel confident that she was doing Jewish parenting right. She wanted holiday celebrations to have all of the key elements, and it was important to her that she could teach us what it means to be Jewish.
As PJ Library grows and increasingly reaches all types of families, we ask ourselves if we are doing enough to serve as a valued resouce. Is PJ Library offering the right content to help a parent learn and understand Jewish topics? Does the program do enough to help all parents feel confident in transmitting that knowledge and engaging with their children around the questions that follow?
Not only did the most recent triennial evaluation help us realize just how many PJ Library parents didn’t grow up Jewish, it also showed that PJ Library has played an outsized role in these households in terms of deepening knowledge about Jewish life and increasing confidence around discussing Jewish topics with children. These households are also much more likely to report that they rely on PJ Library as the main source or one of a few sources for learning about Jewish values and traditions.
My mother figured out Jewish parenting, but she had to work at it. Our Rosh Hashanah meals were full of sweet dishes to start the new year, including my mother’s homemade teighlach for dessert, and she hosted memorable Passover seders each year for the extended family. I realize now just how much energy and effort she put into creating our Jewish home. No wonder she was so taken by the idea of PJ Library. She could appreciate how helpful it is for parents raising Jewish children.