Philanthropist Harold Grinspoon learned one of his life’s guiding principles as a young child. His mother encouraged her children to put coins in the family tzedakah box to fulfill the mitzvah of helping others.
Since Thanksgiving, Grinspoon has done the same for more than 200,000 young people by sending tzedakah boxes to all subscribers of the PJ Library, his foundation’s program that every month mails free, high-quality Jewish children’s literature and music to families across North America. This is itself a wonderful mitzvah, engaging young families in the life of the community as it upholds a time-honored Jewish value.
We shouldn’t stop there. We must do much more here in Connecticut to involve young families in living a Jewish life.
The Jewish Education Project’s 2013 study, “Engaging Today’s Families: Parent Research Findings,” found that connections made in the early stages of parenthood fostered stronger relationships, and that there was a strong interest in a “new and innovative” type of Jewish education, particularly for those parents who don’t feel that synagogue played a positive and meaningful experience in their own childhood. [for website: http://www.thejewisheducationproject.org/sites/default/files/uploaded/Parent%20Focus%20Group%20Findings%20Summary.pdf]
“What will the new Jewish landscape look like if we shift our desired outcomes away from only Jewish rituals and affiliation as evidence of Jewish engagement towards relationships as the basis of long-term engagement?” the study’s authors asked.
The Colorado Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative’s BUILDing Jewish ECE, a new program in the Denver/Boulder area, is one model that Connecticut institutions and agencies can look towards to provide meaningful Jewish experiences for a diverse spectrum of young families, ones that can translate into longer-term community engagement.
To ensure the continuity of our communities, it is important to look beyond ritual practice. We must foster relationships with young families that engage the full spectrum of Jewish life.