PJ Library, which sends free Jewish books monthly to young children, has a “considerable impact” on families’ Jewish life and practices, a survey of Toronto-area families has found.
A majority of the parents who responded to the survey, 83 per cent, said, “PJ Library enhances my family’s Jewish life.” Nearly half, 44 per cent, say they read the books at least once a week to their children, according to the survey conducted by Rosov Consulting.
The program, which has been offered in York Region since 2010, and in Toronto for the last three years, reaches about 5,000 families, said Daniel Held, executive director of the Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education, which oversees the program.
About 55 per cent of eligible families receive the books, one of the highest penetration rates for the program, which is offered across North America, Held said.
“Nothing else has this kind of broad outreach across the community,” Held said.
Families come from across the religious spectrum, and about half of the 1,299 respondents said they are members of a synagogue.
The program also reaches a diverse group of families. Just over one in 10 respondents, 12 per cent, described themselves as an interfaith family, six per cent said one or more parents is a Jew by choice and three per cent of families identified as LGBTQ.
The program, which has an annual budget of $900,000, receives half of its funding from the U.S.–based Harold Grinspoon Foundation, with the remainder coming from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and private donors.
Families with children aged six months to eight years can register online and receive 11 books and one music CD a year, with the titles selected according to the child’s age.
The survey shows that “home is the locus of Jewish identity formation, because of PJ Library,” Held said. Many respondents, 88 per cent, said the books encouraged their children to ask questions about Jewish topics.
Nearly half, 48 per cent, said they had built upon a Jewish tradition in their home or family since receiving the books, while 13 per cent said they had started a new Jewish tradition.
Parent Lauren Lyons first signed her six-year-old niece up for the program and then her twins, who are now 2 ½ years old. The children are now old enough to get excited when they receive a new book in the mail, she said.
“It’s such a lovely idea… They’re really nice stories. They teach them great values.”
Lyons said her children read the books daily, and she appreciates the little write up on the side of the books with ideas for parents.
Held compared the program to going on a first date. “They love the first date. The challenge for our community is how do we translate that into a second date, a third date … in whatever setting is right for that family.”
A majority, 64 per cent, of families said PJ Library had encouraged them “to learn more about programs and services” in the community and one-third, 37 per cent, said PJ Library had increased their participation in other Jewish programs.
The survey also found that parents were less enthusiastic about the programs PJ Library offers, either one-time events like a Purim party or multi-session classes. About one-third of families said they had participated in a program, although most respondents were aware of them.
PJ Library is changing the way it offers programs, and is starting to partner with schools, camps and synagogues to offer multiple classes and events for young families instead of holding just a few large events, Held said.