Pivoting with PJ Library

By Rabbi Laurie Matzkin, Family Educator, March 2021

It’s amazing to look back on email communications from one year ago! Last winter, PJ Library had a strong launch for our new Storytime Shabbat program, which brought the Jewish community together at the Cambrian Branch Public Library with stories, singing, and socializing for families with young children. But as the first tentacles of the virus reached our area, we made the decision to cancel the third program, scheduled for March 14, 2020.

With no idea how long the “Shelter in Place” that started that weekend would last, or what it’s impact would be, PJ Library quickly created a web platform of resources for quarantining families. The PJ Library Facebook feed filled with author-read PJ stories, challah baking videos, and clergy offering words of inspiration and inspiration to overwhelmed and scared parents across the country. Locally, our J-Fam baby playgroup pivoted to a weekly Zoom check-in. Parenting a newborn is isolating enough – but the restrictions of the pandemic made it literally impossible to socialize the babies in the expected or appropriate ways. But by time the summer came there was at least a familiarity with this new pandemic life routine. And of course, all the wonderful in-person PJ Library events that blend family fun with Jewish identity have been off the table since last Purim.

So to meet our mission and be present for our community, we have pivoted to regularly scheduled Zoom-based programs that connect families and kids to each other, facilitate a safe space for parents to both vent and celebrate moments large and small, and to create an accessible, energetic, Jewish educational experience. For months now, babies have been listening in rapt attention to PJ Library board books like Donde Esta Shmate and Bubbe’s Got the Beat. Families are dancing around their living rooms and high-fiving the screen in our Sing Shalom weekly music classes. Kids have dressed up in character for Outer Space Shabbat -– one of our themed Storytime Shabbats over Zoom — singing “Zoom Gali Gali” mashed up with “Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon” and listening to stories from a friend who worked for Space-X, before hearing the author read Asteroid Goldberg.

Parents brought balloons, streamers and 2021 hats to our Noon Year’s Eve virtual dance party, where we also reminded ourselves of our Rosh Hashanah values of beginning anew. With the inability to schmooze organically, we’ve created eight Video Chats with parents and community leaders that live on PJ Library’s Facebook, so that folks can get to know our amazing Jewish Silicon Valley and plant seeds of relationships that can be deepened when we reach the coveted “normal” again.

And of course, the monthly rhythm of receiving a PJ Library book in the mail has brought comfort and joy to 1,100 of our local children. (My own kindergartner enthusiastically helped me read the hilarious new Meet the Latkes to his class during his Zoom-from-home Morning Meeting during Hanukkah.)

Although we miss the “stroller parade” in the APJCC hallway on a J-Fam morning, and the energy of pre-holiday meetups at Happy Hollow and Vasona Park, there is still a strong and deep connection being made across screens. As the Torah teaches, we find holiness Panim el Panim – face to face, whatever that means at a given historical moment. We are so grateful for the opportunity that technology has offered to grow our connections across this Jewish community!