International project sending books with Jewish themes to families with children across the world celebrated its fifth birthday in Russia two weeks ago, as it hosted an online Chanukah party for 600 families.
PJ Library is the books-to-homes educational initiative established in the US by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation then extended around the world and is particularly pertinent in such a vast geographical territory, with cities hundreds of miles apart.
Last month the team in Russia beat national coronavirus lockdowns by sending out a record 10,000 copies of ‘Golem’s Latkes’ by Eric Kimmel, based on the legend of the medieval Prague Golem.
From the Russian Far East to the west of Ukraine, children have been reading about how Rabbi Judah, on the first night of Chanukah, left in a rush to visit the emperor, telling his housemaid Basha to ask the Golem to help.
Sure enough, the Golem – a creature made from clay – comes to life and before Basha knows it latkes are pouring out of the rabbi’s house and into the streets, filling the city and challenging everyone to find a solution before the rabbi returns.
Progress has been monumental since December 2015, when books were sent to 1,000 pre-registered children. Since then, 14,000 children in Russia have joined, as have 3,000 in Ukraine, with a range of books extended for those aged two to nine.
“Every year we have added between 1,600 and 1,800 new children to the programme,” said Matvey Chlenov, director of Russian-language programmes for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
“Some of our ‘graduates’ are now of bar and bat mitzvah age, heading towards their first Taglit or Hillel experience.”
Chlenov added that his team were aiming to stay them connected “to forge a community between those who grew up with these programmes and those currently benefiting from them”.
In its first five years the initiative, which is supported by Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG), has sent out more than 300,000 books as gifts in Russia, and helped define city’s young Jewish populations.
Among the biggest is in Moscow, where PJ Library has 4,600 young subscribers, 70 percent of whom come from mixed families, and 30 percent of whom say their only connection to Jewish education comes through the monthly books.
“Five years ago, we certainly did not know a pandemic was coming when we helped PJ Library launch in Russia, and then later to expand to Ukraine, but now it is clearer than ever, how important this was,” said GPG chief executive Marina Yudborovsky.
“During this Hanukkah, the program reached thousands of families with young children, providing them much-needed support that is not only educational, but a source of comfort, continuity and connection when they are most needed.”
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.