The Joy of Giving

By Maxine Murnick

Theodore R. z”l and Maxine B. Murnick PJ Library Endowment, Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) of Greater MetroWest NJ

A few years ago, I visited the home of a lucky boy named Nathaniel to deliver the 300,000th PJ Library book in Greater MetroWest, NJ. Nathaniel and I had never met, but I arrived holding a shiny new book, and before long he was in my lap, ready to hear the story: The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder.

It’s a retelling of an ancient story from the Talmud. When an old man is asked why he’s planting trees that will not bear fruit until after he passes, the man replies that when he was born, trees were already planted for him. He is planting the trees not for himself, but for his grandchildren.

Could there be a more appropriate book to honor the impact of PJ Library? I know the importance of reading to children: My late husband Ted and I read to our children Lee, Jay, and Amy every night, and they always had books around. We often vacationed in a camping trailer from the time my youngest was three years old, and as soon as they were old enough to read, they’d sit in the back seat of the car and read while we drove around the country.

But the books my children read on those car trips weren’t Jewish books. Neither were the books I read as a child. I grew up in the Bronx and Queens, and we knew we were Jewish because, well, we just were.

My mother lit candles, and I went to synagogue on holidays with my grandfather and my uncles. Ted and I sent our own children to Jewish preschool and had Shabbat dinners every week. My granddaughter once called these dinners “Federation Fridays” because somehow the discussion always turned to philanthropy.

I had served at Greater MetroWest Federation in multiple fundraising roles over the years, including women’s major gifts chair, women’s campaign chair, women’s president, and general campaign chair. When Ted passed away a decade ago, there was no question that we would honor his memory through a philanthropic gift, and so our family made our first gift to PJ Library.

While reading to our children is powerful, they also follow our example. When they receive Jewish books in the mail, they read about customs, holidays, and traditions that may – or may not – feel familiar to them. And then they start asking their parents questions: “Why don’t we light candles?” “Why don’t we make challah?” For many households, the conversation starts here.

Parents rely on PJ Library to keep these conversations going and to answer their children’s questions. If we care about these Jewish programs, we need to help them survive. That’s why I wanted to make a sustaining gift to PJ Library. The books that families receive each month spark children’s curiosity and keep Jewish traditions alive for them. It’s so important that families receive the resources they need to engage with their children, and I realized that I was in a position to help.

That’s why The Forever Garden is so meaningful. By supporting PJ Library, we are planting trees for our grandchildren. Ted and I must have done something right when we raised our children – they have all become philanthropically involved with Federation and other organizations. If I knew what we did, I would bottle it because that’s what we all want: for our children to learn from our best example. But as parents and grandparents, we don’t know what takes root until many years later. We plant the seeds and wait, and hopefully a strong and sturdy plant survives.