Honoring a Lifetime Commitment to Jewish Learning: Harold Grinspoon
Winnie and Harold Grinspoon
A flagship program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, PJ Library has been sending award-winning Jewish children’s books to families free of charge for over 15 years. What initiated this project and how did the idea come to you?
Harold: When I discovered that there were beautifully illustrated Jewish children’s books on the market, I knew I’d hit upon a powerful idea. Everyone loves to see a child’s face light up when they read, and the stories we share help to shape our world. It makes sense then, that children’s books are the perfect way to pass on the richness of Jewish life to young families looking to raise their children with Jewish values, customs, and traditions. The program has grown quicky in size and scale – today, PJ Library books are delivered monthly to some 680,000 children living in more than 30 countries. This growth is possible because PJ Library resonates with families and with many generous funding partners who care about the Jewish community and its future.
One of the things PJ Library does so well is meet people within the Jewish community where they are. In this new digital age, what is PJ Library doing to expand their reach digitally?
Winnie: We offer PJ Library’s trusted content on various social media and audio platforms so that families can access PJ Library wherever they go – via phones, smart speakers or on screens. We offer an array of digital content: short videos on Jewish heroes, animated story books, virtual author visits, blog posts and resource round-ups, as well as audiobooks and three unique Jewish storytelling podcasts for kids of different ages. You can follow @PJLibrary on your social media platforms, and I invite you to visit www.pjlibrary.org/podcast to subscribe to our family-friendly podcasts.
At this year’s Israel Philharmonic Gala in Miami on Dec. 2, AFIPO will be presenting you with the Lifetime Achievement Award. What does this honor mean to you?
Harold: As I think of my legacy, I think of the hundreds of thousands of lives we are enriching and the lasting impact that our efforts will have for children and families, and for the Jewish community. The sense of mission and accomplishment that I get through my philanthropy energizes me every day. I hope that I can inspire others to join me.
Like PJ Library has done with physical copies of books, AFIPO has committed to delivering free digital Israel Phil content in a way that is accessible to all. Why is accessibility such an important factor in activating and empowering people around values?
Winnie: Once people experience something beneficial, they are likely to come back for more. In our case, families are seeing the values of our tradition come to life through bedtime stories, and before long they are adding a new Jewish ritual to their home life or considering Jewish summer camp for their child. We are helping families see how their heritage can be a source of joy and importance for their families in ways they might not have been attuned to.
What does tzedakah mean to you?
Harold: The ethical obligation to be giving and generous. We give every PJ Library family their very own tzedakah box to engage the next generation in this important Jewish obligation.
In the next 50 years, what do you think the Jewish philanthropic community needs to do to ensure the next generation of Jews is energized and engaged in Jewish life?
Harold: I believe that for Judaism to continue to have an impact on families and society, Jewish living and learning must be actively cultivated, and there is no better time to start than when a baby is born. That is why I am committing nearly all my assets to my Foundation to pursue this goal. It is also why I welcome other funders to join me. We can strengthen and grow the Jewish community through welcoming, engaging and stimulating opportunities for connection with our Jewish culture at all life stages.
How does viewing the world through a Jewish lens influence the way you engage with the world—philanthropically, culturally, and personally?
Harold: Thirty years ago, after a bout with cancer, I began to explore my Jewish roots. I discovered that I was part of a people whose culture, traditions, and values have sustained them and enriched society for over 3,500 years. Judaism brought joy, meaning, and purpose into my ancestors’ lives: a thirst for knowledge, a passion for justice, a commitment to care for the weak and oppressed, and a desire to make the world a better place. For me, experiencing the richness of Jewish life and absorbing Judaism’s message to engage and improve the world was a life-changing lesson. Being Jewish was an incredible gift and I was not going to squander it. It is why the future of the Jewish community is my focus and mission. I am proud that it will be my legacy.
Have you ever seen the Israel Philharmonic perform in person? If so, can you tell us that experience? If not, what are you looking most forward to when an Israel Philharmonic string quartet performs in Miami on Dec. 2?
Harold: I have not yet had the pleasure. I look forward to a stirring performance.
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