My son's favorite childhood movie was The Princess Bride, a beautiful film that begins with a young boy home sick from school whose grandfather reads to him from an old storybook of the same name. While my son was awestruck by the film's dueling and fanfare, I was touched by the happiness that flowed from the grandfather as he shared special moments with his grandson.
This week's Torah portion, Eikev, tells us how Moses became fearful that current and future generations of Israelites would fail to uphold the laws and practices that G-d had commanded in the wilderness. Every Jewish leader faces this problem: how to keep the community engaged and committed to ensure the continuity of our people. What is fascinating is how Moses decided to address this challenge. He told stories. He recounted for the people a detailed version of their journey from slavery to freedom, to receiving the gift at Sinai and arriving at the edge of the Promised Land.
"...it was you who saw with your own eyes all the marvelous deeds that the Eternal performed. Keep, therefore, all the instruction that I enjoin upon you today, so that you may have the strength to enter and take possession of the land that you are about to cross into and possess, and that you may long endure upon the soil that the Eternal swore to your fathers to assign to them and to their heirs, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy 11:7-9).
There is no better way of connecting with people - particularly children - than sharing a story. People are not born with an innate commitment to support the continuity of the Jewish people; it is something we learn and are therefore obligated to teach. Sharing stories elevates relationships to new heights and connects us in ways we cannot always imagine.
Recognizing the power of stories, in 2005 the Harold Grinspoon Foundation created PJ Library, a partnership with local Jewish organizations that sends free, age-appropriate, Jewish themed books to children around the world. Our Federation is proud to partner with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Mandell JCC to make this wonderful resource available in Greater Hartford. Over the past three years - and now with a commitment for another three years - the Lions of Judah, part of our Federation's Women's Philanthropy Division, have raised funds to ensure that local children will continue to receive free books each month.
And PJ Library doesn't end with books: The Mandell JCC has been instrumental in creating innovative education, engagement and outreach programs for PJ families and others who may benefit. These collaborations support Jewish families on their own unique journeys to create a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community.
The continuity of the Jewish people is a concern to all of us, and in PJ Library I am confident we've found a "magic bullet" to help guarantee a bright Jewish future. According to a recent survey, 83% of responding PJ Library families say the program has increased their confidence in engaging with their children on Jewish topics - and that number climbs to 94% among intermarried families. By telling the stories of our people in ways that capture our imagination, touch our hearts and inspire greater spiritual and cultural attachment, we can reinforce the connections that bind us forever.
We all have Jewish stories and people with whom we can share them. Like Moses, let's commit to being storytellers. Let's tell and retell our history, teach the beauty of our customs and laws, and share our Jewish pride so that future generations will carry our traditions forward.
President and CEO