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Book program for young Jewish families promotes literacy, learning and Jewish values

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Jewish families like the Baskinds have made PJ Library programs a fundamental part of their lives to help develop childhood reading skills. (Photo: Supplied)

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My mom has been reading PJ Library books to me since I was born. It is a book program for Jewish families. The PJ in PJ Library stands for pyjamas and is funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. PJ Library understands that a lot of families read together at night in their pyjamas.

Every month PJ Library mails over 230,000 free books for Jewish kids to read. I love when my book of the month arrives in our mailbox! To this day, I love these books, and the whole program has influenced my life – my love for reading and my Jewish identity.

I have been in the PJ Library program from when I was born until I turned eight. During those years I received picture books. After that, kids graduate to the PJ Our Way program from ages 9 to 12, when they receive chapter books. So, I will be finished this year. I will miss getting PJ Library books, but I know that I can always go back and reread them considering they take up most of my bookshelf! 

My top three favourite picture books from PJ Library are: Room For The Baby (by Michelle Edwards), The Mitten String (by Jennifer Rosner), and The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street (by Ann Redisch Stampler). I have reread these books many, many times.  

Room for the Baby is my favourite. My mom read it to me so many times that I memorized it. I couldn’t get enough of this book so I would also beg my grandmother to read it to me when she came to visit us from California. She would groan: “Not again!”

The book is about a family expecting a baby and people from different cultures coming together to help the pregnant mom, who had always helped them. When the baby is born she will sleep in her mom’s sewing room. She was such an avid seamstress that the neighbours would give her scraps of old sheets and yarn because everyone knew she would put them to good use. The unnamed big brother is worried when mom says the baby will stay in the jam-packed sewing room.

Mom starts to clean out the room by making old sheets into diapers. Now one corner was in good shape. This was going to take a while. It took mom all summer but by Rosh Hashanah, she had dozens of clothes sewn for the baby. Right before Simchat Torah, mom and the boy made flags out of old sweaters. Mom made blankets and mittens. By Hanukkah, it seemed as if mom might actually pull this off! The boy wasn’t worried when Mom asked him to find a place for some of the remaining fabrics. He knew just what to do. His neighbours took some of the free stuff. Now there was room for the baby!

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On the third night of Hanukkah, baby Lily was born. All the neighbours had made gifts for Lily from the mom’s scraps: a mobile, hats and onesies, a stuffed animal, cloth diapers, and one neighbour made a welcome sign with Lily’s name on it. This story shows how when a community comes together it can create something amazing, and the story is told around the Jewish holidays. The illustrations throughout the book feature colourful and patterned fabrics, and I love the way they look. 

Naomi Baskind was glowing when her mom read aloud the little girl’s favorite PJ Library book, Room for the Baby (Photo: supplied)

The Mitten String is about Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests) and doing mitzvahs.

Ruthie Tober is a girl who lived on a farm with her family. They had sheep and sold handmade, vibrantly-coloured wool mittens throughout their village. One day Ruthie saw a woman with a baby on the side of the road holding a sign that said: “broken wagon help.” The woman’s name was Bayla and she was connected to her baby Aaron by a blue string. Ruthie discovered that Bayla could not hear or speak, and the string helped because when the baby cried it would tug Bayla awake.

Ruthie’s family brought Bayla and Aaron to their farm for the night. There, an idea formed in Ruthie’s head. Ruthie grabbed a ball of vibrant red yarn and sewed a small mitten just the right size for Aaron and another to fit Bayla. With a string attached of course. Ruthie showed Bayla and she was overjoyed.

This story is about welcoming guests and kindness, important Jewish values. It reminds us of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality in Genesis. Ruthie and her family didn’t have to welcome Bayla and Aaron, but they helped them out. No one needs to be kind but it’s the right thing to do. Bayla was deaf, and she and Aaron’s hands would get cold so Ruthie came up with a clever idea. This story, told also with beautiful illustrations, shows how kindness can really make a difference, even if you can’t always tell you’ve made a difference in someone else’s day or yours.

Naomi Baskind and her brother Asher attended birthday parties and other fun events at the PJ Library in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Supplied)

The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street is a great story about Israel, kindness to animals, and being a good neighbour (as you can see I like stories about being kind). Up and down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, there were many cats. At first, Mr. Modiano, who owned the Tel Aviv Fish Palace on Ben Yehuda Street, thought cats were useless and shooed them away. Every night after work he would climb the stairs to his apartment and he’d see his next-door neighbour Mrs. Spiegel, who had two cats that she adored.

Mr. Modiano would offer Mrs. Spiegel any leftover fish from his store. One day, Mrs. Spiegel’s cat Ketzie went missing and she was very worried. Even though Mr. Modiano disliked cats, he went searching for Ketzie. He found Ketzie! And eventually, he ended up getting his own cat.

What I love about this story is that Mr. Modiano hated cats but he was still a nice neighbour. All the animals in the book have Hebrew names, like my dogs. During my life, we’ve had three dogs (only one at the moment), and they were named Penina (Pearl), Paz (Golden), and Sigal (Treasure). When we rescue them, we change their names to Hebrew names and my mom, brother Asher, and I give them a “bark” mitzvah. The Hebrew Bible tells us to be compassionate to animals (tza-ar ba-alei chayim), in part what the story is about, and in my family we definitely are.

Soon I won’t be getting PJ Library books anymore – but I can definitely say that the memories of them and the Jewish lessons they have shared in story form will always be with me. 

Naomi Baskind is a Jewish girl growing up in Cleveland. She is on the local swim team and loves reading fiction. Naomi is a member of the Global Jewish Pen Pal program.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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