Ever stop for a moment and think of the joy you share(d) while reading to your child at bedtime (or think back to when your parents read to you). I know in my house that is one of the most sacred times of the day (one difference now is that my children read to me). I fondly recall picking out my children’s favorite books and reading it to them over and over again (Goodnight Moon anyone?). My children could recite the books by heart, while over time I noticed their growing sophistication in understanding the stories and their meaning.
This past Sunday morning, I ventured from my suburban home across the “mighty” Willamette River to the east side (it really is not a shlep) to join 11 families and their young children as the “special guest reader” for a PJ Library celebration. Most of these families did not know one another, yet it was evident that having parents and children together is always a positive experience as friendships and play dates can develop. At the program, some 20-plus children came to do arts and crafts and to have story time – more importantly, Jewish story time.
Let me take a step back for a moment. In 2007, John Moss, then Executive Director, and the leadership of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF) had the foresight and vision to partner with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (in Western Massachusetts) and several local philanthropists on a new initiative called PJ Library. This award-winning family outreach and engagement program mails free Jewish books and music (with family learning guides) on a monthly basis to children ages 6 months until their seventh birthday, currently reaching over 70,000 children in 135 communities (interestingly, the program is based on country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library). The greater Portland Jewish community has been blessed to have over 1,000 children participate in the program since its inception and we hope to see these numbers grow substantially (we estimate there may be 2,400 children eligible right now).
I have always been a major proponent of this program from my experiences in other communities and as a parent with children in the program. After conversations with Julie Diamond, Executive Director of the OJCF who has worked tirelessly on this effort, it was determined that for PJ Library to expand a new community collaborative model would need to be developed. Federation is delighted to be now managing the day-to-day operations of the program, while working in close partnership with the OJCF, Mittleman Jewish Community Center and the Portland Jewish Academy (we hope others will partner, as well) to create innovative ways to maximize PJ Library, use it as an outreach vehicle, and to further involve the participating families in Jewish life. This means more programming activities, like this past Sunday, and enhanced communications/information sharing.
Due to the success of the PJ Library in Portland, the program is expanding throughout our state with Salem/Corvallis, Medford/Ashland, Bend, and Eugene as PJ Library communities. Individual donors, B’nai B’rith Camp/Men’s Camp, and the OJCF will be providing funding to expand the program to include 500 more children from these areas.
Young families, especially the children, are so impressionable during these early years. These are truly special times to cherish and enjoy since we all know children do grow up oh-so fast. PJ Library is an incredible avenue for families to explore the timeless core values of Judaism and to support their Jewish journeys in raising young children. Watch this video featuring Portland’s own Ellie Gilbert to better understand the program’s impact.
If you have children or grandchildren in this age group (6 months-6 years old)who are not currently enrolled in PJ Library, please click here or visit www.jewishportland.org and look for the PJ Library link on the bottom right of the screen.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to make my first visit to Eugene, Oregon and spend the day meeting with leaders from their Jewish community. Although Eugene/Lane County is not within the catchment area of this Federation, I wanted to learn firsthand about the work of the University of Oregon Hillel and other Jewish programs in Eugene.
While there, I had the opportunity to share my perspective and vision for Jewish life into the future with the leadership of the Lane County Jewish Federation (basically a volunteer driven Federation with one part-time professional who primarily serves as a social worker and community information service provider), members of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (Eugene is consistently challenged by anti-Israel groups), Hillel board members and university students. The interchange was upbeat and I was able to share many of the thoughts and ideas I have written about in my weekly email.
I also got a glimpse of the myriad of Jewish activities and programs in the community. If you have not seen the new Temple Beth Israel in Eugene then you are missing out. It is a beautiful and warm-feeling synagogue with wonderful Jewish educational and enrichment activities taking place. I met with the leaders from Ahavas Torah (an outreach organization similar to the Kollel here in Portland) and dialogued with the new Chabad rabbi and his wife (they moved to Eugene in January from New York). I had the chance to sit and talk with Dr. Deborah Green, Director of the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at the University, who was so excited to share the love and passion her students have for their studies. And, of course, a highlight was schmoozing with the college students to hear their perspectives on Jewish life today on campus and their expectations and interests for the future.
I am grateful to Paul Bessemer, Executive Director of Hillel, for coordinating my day-long visit and for the time everyone took out of their busy schedule to meet with me. It was truly an inspiring day and I came away so impressed with Jewish life and happenings in Eugene. Check it out for yourself!
On a separate note, I am delighted to inform you that our own Senator Ron Wyden will be receiving the national Albert D. Chernin Award at next week’s Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA, the umbrella group for 125 local Community Relations Committees) Plenum in Washington, DC. Each year, the Albert D. Chernin Award is bestowed upon an American Jew whose work best exemplifies the social justice imperatives of Judaism, Jewish history, and the protection of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. Mazel tov to Senator Wyden on this well-deserved recognition.
In addition, our own Hand to Hand program (donation drop-off and volunteer resource fair held last October), in coordination with the Community Warehouse, will be awarded the prestigious national Award for Program Excellence at the same conference. The Award for Program Excellence honors “an exemplary/outstanding/innovative community program that advances the goals of the Jewish community relations field and serves as a model for other communities.” We are honored to have been selected and this shows the recognition of our outstanding and impressive work here in Portland.
We have so much to be proud of and it is because of you -- you do make a difference!