Nonprofit, Ministry Team Up to Bring Kids Free Books

A U.S. project to send free books to Jewish children once a month will be coming to Israel, too, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation's PJ Library project sends free books to Jewish children aged 6 months to 8 years across the United States.

The Israeli project will be called Sifriyat Pijama, a translation of the name, and will be carried out by the foundation and the ministry.

It expects to send 360,000 books a year to 45,000 children.

Each of the two parties emphasizes a different, complementary aspect of the project, they say.

The Education Ministry said the plan is one of many to promote the Hebrew language among Israeli children and teenagers, while the American foundation said the plan aims to reinforce universally Jewish values, and improve knowledge of Judaism among children and their families.

The project has a budget of an estimated $4.5 million, of which 45 percent will be coming from the ministry.

Northern pilot

A pilot was held last year, during which 3,000 children at 100 kindergartens in the north received books.

Over the past few weeks, the program was expanded to include all Jewish kindergartens in the north and 500 kindergartens in the south.

Unlike the American project, which bypasses schools and reaches out directly to families, in Israel the teacher will introduce the book to the children, hold a short activity, and only then hand out copies, which will include ideas for shared parent and child activities based on the book.

The activities are designed to further understanding of the values in the book, the foundation said.

One example is Leah Goldberg's book "The Bad Boy," which refers to the Mishna lesson on self control - "Who is a hero? He who conquers his passions."

"The books allow families to discuss Jewish values and traditions, and parents can give the next generation their own opinions," said Galina Vroman, Sifriyat Pijama director in Israel. "Judaism is often interpreted very narrowly, as if it were all about commandments, holidays and the Bible. We seek to expand this meaning and empower the parents as we do so."