Children giggled and danced, listened and gasped, pulled things out of their imaginations and later put them back.
Celebrating the 100,000th book given out locally by PJ Library, an outreach program for Jewish families with young children, about 100 children and adults gathered on Jan. 6 at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
The afternoon featured storyteller Judith Wiener of Montclair — reading Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis — as well as a crafts project and an opportunity for children to vote for their favorite PJ Library title.
Founded by the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation and administered locally by the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life — the educational arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ — PJ Library sends free Jewish-themed books and CDs to children from six months through age five. Introduced locally in 2008, it sent its 100,000th mailing in November, when Superstorm Sandy forced the postponement of the celebration. By now, more than 130,000 books have been delivered.
In honor of the occasion, the major funders of the project were honored with cards made by the children and other gifts, as well as a champagne toast. The local funders include Jerry and Paula Gottesman, Robin and Brad Klatt, Maxine Murnick and her family, the Roschelle Family, and Lori and Steven Klinghoffer and their daughters Lisa Klinghoffer Buber and Rachel Klinghoffer.
PJ Library also receives support from the Waldor Library Resource Endowment Fund, the Helen Weiss Klayman Memorial Fund, and a bequest from the estate of Eric Ross.
Beth and Adam Marks of Parsippany brought their children, Sophie and Joshua. They’ve been receiving books since Sophie, now four, was six months old. Joshua, now 11 months, recently started receiving books.
Beth described PJ Library as “fantastic.”
“It’s our main connection to the Jewish community,” she said. The family does not belong to a synagogue, Beth said, and they are all learning plenty from the books they receive about Judaism and the holidays.
For example, said Beth, “I never knew about Tu B’Shevat.” A book about the Jewish New Year for the Trees was among the first Sophie received. “She made us read it over and over. Now I know about the holiday,” said her mother. PJ Library “brings Judaism in the house and influences how much we talk about Jewish stuff, whether making hallah on Shabbat or traveling to Israel. It’s also helping Sophie connect the dots.”
Adam said if they weren’t receiving the Jewish books, they’d be reading secular books at bedtime. “It gives us a reason to talk about this stuff at home. Otherwise, we’d be reading about princesses,” he said.
Ariel Dybner of Maplewood came with three of his five children, Miles and Theodore, both four, and Sara, six. His older children, Lucy, 13, and Phoebe, 11, were already too old for PJ Library when it arrived in the area.
“It’s nice to have so many Jewish books on the shelf,” he said. “Half of their books are Jewish stories. For the older girls, it was so much rarer.”
The Dybner family celebrates Shabbat and holidays and belongs to Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, where Lucy recently celebrated becoming a bat mitzva and where the twins attend preschool. Having the books, Dybner said, “just reinforces everything we are doing.”