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More Than Just Free

In his June 15 op-ed, “The Problem With ‘Free,’” David Bryfman criticizes free Jewish programs, for “devaluing Jewish experiences.” “Why would people want to pay for a Jewish experience,” he asks, if they know “they can get Jewish products for free?”

Although he doesn’t mention it by name, there’s no doubt he’s including PJ Library in his critique of programs, where “‘free’ is a defining feature, from giving away Jewish children’s books to trips to Israel.” In fact, a careful reading of his column, along with a full understanding of the PJ Library program, shows that Bryfman is actually making the case for PJ Library.

Bryfman warns of “unanticipated and potentially devastating consequences” because of free programs like PJ Library, which sends a gift of age-appropriate Jewish children’s books to more than 100,000 children each month throughout North America. Yet, Bryfman acknowledges that sometimes “free” works wonderfully, because it can “exponentially increase audience size.” Despite his concerns that anything free is worth only what it costs, Bryfman concedes that “when ‘free’ exists in a broader context and directly connects to further engagement, it only adds value.”

Exactly. Since its inception in 2005, we have always described PJ Library as a “family engagement program.” The books are fantastic, but PJ Library is so much more than free books arriving in the mailbox each month. In each of our 175 communities in the United States and Canada, PJ Library connects young Jewish families to each other and to the broader Jewish community. From PJ Tot Shabbat and Havdalah programs in synagogues to Purim parties at the JCC and holiday concerts at a local day school, PJ Library reaches out to young families, welcoming and showing them the richness, beauty and diversity of all that is happening in their local Jewish communities.

Like the free sample in the candy store, the gift of PJ Library books ignites the appetite for increased Jewish involvement and PJ Library programs in each community provide the direct connection for further engagement that Bryfman acknowledges increases, not decreases, value.

Marcie Greenfeld Simons
Director, PJ Library
South Boston, Mass.

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