|When Lauren, who is Jewish, married Mike, who is not, they agreed that they would raise their children in a Jewish household. Still, when their daughter Madeline was born, Lauren was worried.|
“I was the one Jewish parent,” she says. “Mike didn’t really understand in the beginning what it means to be Jewish, that it’s not just a religion. My concern was, how are we going to raise our child Jewish when I needed to educate my child as well as my husband?”
Enter PJ Library, a literacy project that delivers Jewish-themed picture books to subscribers’ homes each month. The books, targeted at kids aged six months through eight years, educate children and their parents at the same time, bringing Jewish values into the home and giving parents an opportunity to learn about or reinforce those values as they pass them onto their children.
It’s Challah Time is one of Madeline’s favorites. Not only does it keep the two year old engaged, it teachers her—and her father—about Friday evening Jewish rituals “We bring the light into ourselves,” Mike reads. “How do we do that, Madeline?” Madeline enthusiastically waves her hands over her eyes.
Lauren herself grew up in a Conservative Jewish home with two strong traditions: her family honored both the Sephardic background of her mother, from a Greek Jewish family, and the Ashkenazi roots of her father, whose family originally came from Poland and Russia. Lauren brings both of those traditions to her life with Michael and Madeline, sharing with them the foods and customs she learned from both sets of grandparents.
She was also profoundly influenced by her maternal grandparents’ experiences during the Holocaust. “They lost their families; they fled the Nazis and my grandmother spent the war in hiding. I grew up with stories of what they lived through, and their outlook on life was very impactful.”
When Lauren met Mike, she knew she’d have to figure out a way to raise a Jewish family with this man. “I made sure he understood Jewish traditions and customs even before we had a child.” Mike was very close with Lauren’s father, who passed away last year, and learned a lot from him. “Mike was always completely receptive,” she says. “The more he learns how, the more wonderful he thinks it is.”
Lauren and Mike’s situation is not unusual among PJ Library subscribers. One of the unanticipated benefits of this beloved program is its impact on families in which one parent has not been brought up in the Jewish tradition. Children’s books introduce basic Jewish concepts with an emphasis on fun, while adult-level texts included in the monthly package focus on building a framework of Jewish customs and traditions.
The PJ Library books have had a clear impact on Mike as well as Madeline. Now, he awaits each new book as eagerly as his daughter. “The books we get every month are a beautiful introduction for my child and for my husband to Judaism,” Lauren says. “Knowing that this is what I grew up with, to see it developing in my family is very rewarding.”