Jewish Storytelling, at Passover and Year-round

Adorable little child, boy, sitting in a book store

The SIGHTS, SOUNDS, and smells of holidays so often evoke memories of our childhood. Reciting the four questions, retelling the ancient tale of the Exodus through the Haggadah, and singing “Dayenu.” Gefilte fish avoided. Hillel sandwiches with charoset (chopped fruit and nuts), maror (bitter herbs), and matzoh are devoured, leaving crumbs for miles. It’s a chance to stay up late, hunt for the Afikomin (a half piece of matzoh hidden), and earn a prize. These are the traditions and feelings of our childhood – and part of what we pass on to our children, l’dor vador (from generation to generation).

As a parent, I experience the holiday from a different perspective. It is a moment to reflect upon our people’s ancient history, to honor that – 3,000 years after the Exodus – we are free to celebrate together and with the generations. “Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt” “Remember that you were taken out of the bondage of slavery.” To remember is a holy mandate. And so we retell the story year after year.

Of course, the magic of storytelling and connection to Jewish learning are carried on throughout the year with PJ Library, a program Jewish Federation & Family Services provides with support from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. PJ Library is an extraordinary program that sends FREE Jewish children’s books (and sometimes music CDs) to families every month. Monthly, Jewish Federation & Family Services sends out nearly 1,800 books to local families! Children from 6 months to 8 years from all Jewish families are eligible – whatever your background, knowledge, family make- up, or observance may be. Of course, children don’t just receive books…they receive Jewish ideas and inspiration to experience at bedtime while snuggled up in their pajamas (the “PJ” in “PJ Library”). Now, as PJ Library has become a phenomenon both locally and internationally, the program is expanding. PJ Our Way offers chapter books to 9-to 11-year- olds, books that they get to select for themselves online.

There are two special connections between PJ Library and Passover that come to my mind at this time of year. The first is that PJ Library was born at a Passover Seder. Harold Grinspoon, saw beautiful Jewish children’s books for the first time and started dreaming. He dreamt about a time when families all over the world could share the joys of Judaism through children’s books. The year was 2005. When his three grandchildren found the Afikomen during the Passover Seder, they were each rewarded with a beautiful Jewish-themed storybook. Harold saw their excitement and before long he was giving free Jewish storybooks to the Jewish families in his hometown in Western Massachusetts. “Why stop there?” he thought. He searched for partners to help get more books to more families, and PJ Library was off and running.

The second connection between PJ Library and Passover is a more personal one: it was a PJ Library book, “A Sweet Passover,” that inspired my son to cook for the first time when he was 8 years old. He made matzoh brie (matzoh fried with eggs) all on his own. What a treat it was! That is one of my favorite Passover foods and now my son has developed an appreciation for it too –- his, of course, with extra helpings of maple syrup.

Connection amongst the generations. Tradition and heritage. More enjoyable holidays. PJ Library not only deepens Jewish life in one family, it helps to sustain it in our entire community.

From my family to yours, I wish you a Passover overflowing with happiness and the blessings of peace and togetherness.

To learn more about PJ Library or to sign up, visit JewishOC.org/PJLibrary.

A Message from Arlene Miller, President & CEO of Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County

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