It took an octogenarian entrepreneur to disrupt the status quo of Jewish childhood, and raising Jewish children will never look the same again. PJ Library unites Jewish parents around the world in our shared project of passing Jewish values, traditions, and culture along to the next generation. Harold’s vision, PJ Library, will reverberate through generations of Jewish families.
In 2016, Harold Grinspoon and Diane Troderman signed the Giving Pledge, created by philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet to encourage the world’s wealthiest individuals to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charity. Each signer pens a letter to explain that choice and possibly inspire others to join. Below is an excerpt from Harold and Diane’s letter, explaining why they are leaving nearly all of their wealth to support Jewish life and PJ Library in perpetuity.
For full text of Harold and Diane’s Giving Pledge letter, visit pjfor.me/givingpledge.
I grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s in a poor family in Auburndale, MA, where we were the only Jews in the neighborhood. My family was secular but the neighborhood kids didn’t let me forget that I was Jewish. “Jew boy” and “kike” were typical greetings I received in the school yard. I didn’t know much about being Jewish except that life would certainly be easier if I weren’t.
After a couple of unsuccessful business ventures, I bought a two-family house and then a three-family house with a goal to acquire enough real estate so that someday I would owe the banks $50,000. I dreamed of the day I would finally pay off this debt. Sixty years later, I am still a significant partner in the same real estate business, which is now a leading national company in the multifamily industry.
Twenty-five years ago, I had cancer of the tongue and came to the realization at that time that life is about more than making money. I started to think about what my legacy would be. Inspired by my wife, Diane Troderman, and my friends, Michael Steinhardt, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, and Jeremy Pava, I began to explore my Jewish roots. I discovered that I was part of a people whose culture, traditions, and values have sustained them and enriched society for over 3,500 years. Judaism brought joy, meaning, and purpose into my ancestors’ lives: a thirst for knowledge, a passion for justice, a commitment to care for the weak and oppressed, and a desire to make the world a better place.
However, as I observed the world through my new Jewish lens, I recognized that while life in America has improved dramatically for Jews, our improved status has created a new, demographic challenge. Thankfully, my grandchildren do not suffer in the schoolyard as I once did. Among younger Jews, however, our newfound social acceptance has led to a decreased connection with their Jewish heritage.
To address this challenge, I decided to create the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to engage Jews in the richness of the Jewish tradition. We take a very hands-on approach to philanthropy. Our flagship PJ Library program, for example, currently distributes [nearly 600,000] free Jewish children’s books per month, connecting families around the globe to their heritage. In the 21st century, I believe that for Judaism to continue to have an impact on families and society, Jewish living and learning must be actively cultivated. That is why I am committing nearly all my assets to my Foundation to pursue this goal.
Harold Grinspoon May 8, 2015