We live in San Diego where thanks to our Jewish Community Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, and the Harold Grinspoon Foundationthe PJ Library books are available to our Jewish families. The program delivers Jewish children’s books in English to our mailbox through the year providing parents an easy way to nurture Jewish identity in our children.  The books are terrific and for those eager to develop Hebrew literacy in our children in the Diaspora, we of course naturally wished for books in Hebrew too.  When ePhilanthropy began reporting that the PJ Library (“Sifiyat Pijama”) opened in Israel, with books in Hebrew; you could hear my audible cry for miles “Nu, lama loh anachnu!.” (i.e. “So, why not us too?”) Shortly after, recognizing the benefit for Israeli-Americans and others passionate about Hebrew, the Israeli American Council in Los Angeles, CA, fueled by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, began mailing the books in Hebrew to families throughout the United States in their Sifriyat Pijama b’America program.

Our kids love the books.  “Let’s read “Button Soup” – “מרק כפתורים”, no wait, “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” – “המעיל המופלא של יוסף.” As parents, we loved the classics like Noami Shemer’s, “Anashim Tovim” – “אנשים טובים.” The former, the kids recognize in English and look forward to hearing or reading in Hebrew too.  The latter, the Naomi Shemer story, connects the children to a classic Israeli singer, historically significant song, and Jewish values in one book and the related activities.  That kind of connection to Israel, to Israelis and their experience is priceless. In one step it literally provides a shared Israeli cultural experience that links generations, bridges the Israeli-Diaspora divide and establishes roots.

How do we use the Sifriyat Pijama books in San Diego?  The Tarbuton offers a Shaat Sipur (StoryTime) using the Sifriyat Pijama books and an Israeli Story Teller at our Israeli Cultural Center. We schedule the Sifriyat Pijama hour for pre-school children before or after a formal class.  The hour is also ideal for Israelis who may prefer a native Hebrew speaker Story Teller and a Hebrew speaking community.   The program is enjoyed by the entire Jewish community bringing Americans, Israeli-Americans and Israelis together to enjoy these amazing stories about Jewish values.  We also use the books as reading supplements in our Modern Hebrew program. Teachers read the books in class, and children either use copies at home, or extra copies we provide, to read the stories to their parents at home. Hearing the story in class, gives the children confidence and inspires them to read at home with their parents and siblings.  It makes our program more fun, meaningful and relevant for them.

And when families move, or their children outgrow the books and they need to make space on their shelves, they become a part of our San Diego Public Library project.  A few years back, we opened Modern Hebrew classes in elementary public schools.  Our families wanted to have books they could borrow close by.  The same was true for our Center but we are renters with no space or permission to leave behind books, and moreover, we wanted the books to be accessible, even “orderable” for families all over the City.  The public library provided the ideal solution. We talked with the librarians and established a procedure for providing catalog information for their staff. We obtained their agreement to maintain the collection.  Every year as families move in and out of San Diego, we collect Modern Hebrew books and we donate them to the library to build a strong collection of Modern Hebrew books and videos for children and adults in our community.   The books can be ordered through the public library catalog and delivered to any Public Library near their homes, making the books an accessible lending library for all.

Watching the Modern Hebrew books pop up on shelves all over San Diego’s Public Libraries has been fun.  When we offer our Hebrew Story Times in the public libraries, we know the families can finish and sit in the library and read, borrowing additional books and videos to take home too.  The shelves are now filled with classics from “Eliezer v’Hagezer” to American novel translations like “Harry Potter” in Hebrew too.  How can you bridge your kids, and their friends to Israel and Israelis?  Read your children Sifriyat Pijama books and other Israeli classic children’s stories at night at bedtime.  Its a shared experience, one our friends and family in Israel are doing too.

Jennie Starr is the Founder & Director of the Tarbuton, Israeli Cultural Center. The Tarbuton was recognized as a Slingshot Top 50 innovative organization in 2012-2013. The Tarbuton is also a member of the Covenant Foundation’s after school network of innovative after school Jewish programs, Nitzan.  The Tarbuton is supported by the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, Innovation & Planning Center, the Leichtag Foundation and the Israeli-American Council. Jennie has worked in Jewish Education for 7 years, and has a law and software product management professional background.  She is an advocate of Hebrew language proficiency in both Jewish and public school settings lending her hand to found a Hebrew Language Charter School in San Diego and advocating for Hebrew language instruction in San Diego public schools.