407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

In April, Shalom Families Co-chair Fiona Anavi and I had the privilege of representing PJ Library Greater Orlando at the 9th Annual PJ Library Conference at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD. More that 200 participants from five countries took part in the conference.

The aim of the conference was to share knowledge, make connections, grow local engagement programs and build friendships – all with the shared goal of making Judaism accessible for Jewish families, in our local communities and all around the world! According to the latest Pew Report, 65% of Jewish families are not engaged in Jewish life, and much of the conference was devoted to re-imagining young family engagement and removing barriers to welcome all Jewish families into our community.

Fiona Anavi and Jennifer Cohen at the PJ Library conference.

The conference kicked off with a warm welcome from Harold Grinspoon, the founder and visionary of PJ Library, and foundation President Winnie Grinspoon. Since its inception 9 years ago, PJ Library has sent an incredible 18,000,000 + books, all over the world, to families raising Jewish children.

 After our welcome on Sunday, Fiona and I went straight to work in networking groups. Fiona shared ideas with PJ communities of a similar size, and I had a breakout session with veteran PJ conference attendees as we discussed ways to make our own communities stronger. After dinner, we heard from our keynote speaker, Rabbi Yonah Schiller, who discussed Impact Design: The Art of Listening and Mindset of Co-Creation. According to Rabbi Schiller, “By making space, granting permission, and employing fearless empathy we can begin to allow our majority Jewish populations to define and design for themselves a Jewish life they can call their own.”

The next day, early risers had the opportunity to choose between a “dance party,” walk around the farm, or morning musical prayer circle, led by renowned Jewish song artists Emily Aronoff Teck (Monday) and Rick Recht & Friends (Tuesday). Monday’s presentation began with an overview of findings from the 2016 PJ Family Results Survey and the powerful impact PJ Library is having on Jewish engagement in homes and local communities. Of the 20,000 + survey respondents, an amazing 99% of Jewish families receiving PJ Library books feel proud to be Jewish!

Throughout the day, we each attended two 90-minute workshops and two “successful effort” sessions led by selected PJ Professionals. I had the opportunity to co-lead the Tikkun Olam/Social Action Program session, where 27 attendees learned more about how we implement our own open-space programs in Orlando, and I shared our program design for a Tikkun Olam Park Cleanup Day.

Every minute of the day was spent learning, even during meals! These meal table sessions gave us the opportunity to talk to various program professionals in very small groups on a wide variety of topics – everything from social media to applying for grants to submitting our own book manuscripts for consideration. Monday night wrapped up with a Performing Arts Showcase featuring Emily Teck & The Bible Players with Rick Recht.

Tuesday was just as busy as Monday, and Fiona and I left the conference with our heads filled to the brim, and ready to start applying new ideas and practices into our own community.

Here in Orlando, it is an honor for the Jewish Federation to be part of the Jewish journey of so many families. Nearly 550 families each month receive PJ Library books, and another 80 participants join us every four to six weeks at our community engagement programs. PJ Library Greater Orlando was recently approved as one of 17 new PJ Our Way Partner Communities. Tweens who are about to age out of PJ Library can enroll in PJ Our Way, for ages 8.5 to 11, and select their own Jewish-themed chapter book each month. We are currently working with a tween and mom committee, and we are looking forward to bringing engagement programs to tweens in the new school year! Be sure to check out our “commercial” introducing PJ Our Way Orlando, starring our very own tween committee!

If you want to see what some of our local PJ Library programs look like, we invite you to view photos and videos at our PJ Library Greater Orlando Facebook page. Please be sure to “like” PJ Library Greater Orlando after your visit.