I spent a good part of last week in western Massachusetts in and near the Berkshires. Imagine green rolling hills, crisp air, budding daffodils and tulips, and so many shades of evergreen trees. While it sounds very idyllic and vacation-like, it was actually the backdrop for a week with colleagues from across the country and around the world who met to discuss how we build Jewish community from a shared text. Typically, in the Jewish community, the shared text is Torah—the root of our story.
The text that brought us together that week was PJ Library, a program founded by philanthropist Harold Grinspoon that brings books to Jewish children from 6 months to 8 years old. Every month, 1,800 children throughout Orange County receive a book that’s been gifted by the Grinspoon Foundation and Jewish Federation & Family Services. This means that 1,200 families (every child receives their own book) are having conversations about Jewish holidays, values, and lifecycle events in their own home. Since the program was brought to Orange County in 2011, we have distributed tens of thousands of books!
Tomorrow night begins Shavuot, a festival commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. One of the customs includes staying up all night studying Jewish texts and eating dairy treats. Judaism is always offering us an opportunity for learning—we really are the “People of the Book”—and this holiday builds it right in!
One of the questions we were asked at the conference was, “Can you name the top five Jewish books that you read as a child?” Neither I nor my colleagues could name more than one or two Jewish books at all, but today if you ask a group of Jewish kids that same question, they can name 5-10. Isn’t that amazing? And these books cover all ways of being Jewish. Our tradition highly prizes the continuity of the learning process, and it is this gift of learning that we are able to give our children.
As you head into the weekend, I hope you’ll have a slice of cheesecake in honor of Shavuot and reflect on the importance of Jewish learning in your own life. Read a good Jewish book—and share it.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,