When I heard about PJ Library, my heart was ignited. Although it wasn’t yet available in my area, I signed up in hope! Then one day two envelopes arrived, each one addressed to each of my children. Now, to our huge benefit, PJ Library helps our family with our Jewish learning.
I came to Judaism through a less than conventional route: a Jewish mother who converted to the faith of her own initiative and a Catholic Italian father no longer married to my mother. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah, though I attended shul very regularly and cheder classes only on the very odd occasion. At 18, I decided, as a formality as far as I was concerned, to put myself through the conversion course. Growing up I had the Christmas tree and the seder, the Shabbat candles and the chocolate Easter eggs. Did it confuse me? Not really. Perhaps it helped that the different holidays were celebrated in separate households, but in the end I simply followed my heart.
And so here I am, an immigrant in the UK having left the Jewish community I was an active part of, now married to a non-Jewish man and with only my mother’s staunch support of Israel as my extended family’s Jewish identity. My own little family follows much the same path of my interfaith youth, and though some may repel in horror at the assumed assimilation of our ‘Jewishness,’ I aim to give my children the same choices afforded to me. If I can teach them and show them how to be Jews, perhaps they too will simply be able to follow their hearts. We have a mezuzah on our door brought all the way from Israel, and we light Shabbat candles and say the prayers. We attend as many functions at the (not so) local shul as we can. My daughter doesn’t attend cheder, and though her brother isn’t yet of age, it seems unlikely one will go without the other… and so their Jewish learning comes primarily from me. Or so it did before we were afforded the privilege of access to the PJ Library.
These books cover a range of topics that are meaningful for my family, from books about the festivals and holidays to books telling the story of Jewish morality tales, culture and traditions – not discounting simply books with Hebrew names (just like my daughter has!). These books are filled with beautiful illustrations and are at age appropriate levels - and I love that the cover sleeves include further explanations and teaching moments with reference to the books’ content. My daughter is the only Jewish child in her school, and she brings in her books to share with her class around holidays, such as at Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat, Pesach or Rosh Hashanah... so the benefit is reaching even wider than you might imagine!
When I asserted my Jewish faith, I was gifted a Siddur by my mother who noted that she hoped I went on to “raise righteous Jews”. Though it was many years later that I began my family, those words have stayed with me. And so I send my thanks to all of those who contribute so kindly to keep this resource available, and especially to the PJ Library team who help make our home library feel a little more personal.
Sabrina Atkins is a some-time copywriter and an all-the-time mom. Originally from South Africa she made the UK her home 15 years ago.
June 4, 2018