Girls, Moms, Grandmas Enjoy Afternoon Tea with PJ Library® and American Girl “Rebecca Books” Author at Lord & Taylor
More than 100 girls with their mothers, grandmothers and American Girl dolls overflowed an attractively partitioned area of the dress section at Lord & Taylor in Mizner Park in east Boca Raton on Sunday, April 19. Many girls and dolls were quite dressed up for the sold out event – a special Afternoon tea with PJ Library® of South Palm Beach County and Jacqueline Dembar Greene, author of the “Rebecca Books” in American Girl’s historical series.
The guests arrived from throughout the Jewish community to festivities beginning with “mingle and schmooze” time, including tea sandwiches, cookies, lemonade and iced tea catered by JARC, with dietary laws observed. The girls also enjoyed decorating their own Shabbat candlesticks with Donna Klein Jewish Academy community service volunteers, also American Girl aficionados.
When the ladies of all ages had settled into their seats, local PJ Library Director Elana Ostroff welcomed everyone. “As most of you know,” she said, “PJ Library has been in South Palm Beach County for just about 2 years now. This unique Jewish family engagement program offers the gift of free, high-quality Jewish books and music each month to children ages 6 months through 8 years old throughout North America. Locally, we have well over 1,300 families enrolled to receive these gifts, and about 4,000 children, parents and grandparents also join us for exciting family holiday and other programs around this community.” Ostroff invited local families raising Jewish children who are not yet receiving these FREE monthly gifts to learn more about how PJ Library helps families explore the timeless core values of Judaism through books and music, and to sign up at jewishboca.org/pjlibrary.
Ostroff thanked the generous PJ Library sponsors, including their partner for the afternoon’s event, the Jewish Women’s Foundation (JWF), from which PJ Library in South Palm Beach County had received a grant for the past two years. JWF, an initiative of the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation, has funded over $950,000 in grants through the combined donations of its “Trustees” within its short 11 years.
Hinda Bramnick, a JWF Trustee and there with her PJ Library aged niece, shared that, “JWF is exceptionally proud to sponsor this event and partner with PJ Library. The program brilliantly engages Jewish values and families, which aligns beautifully with the mission and vision of JWF to envision, empower and engage Jewish women and children to improve their lives and opportunities. More information about JWF is available at jewishboca.org/jwf.
Ostroff also thanked Lord & Taylor for so generously hosting the elegant afternoon, before the store’s General Manager Mindy Horvitz introduced special guest, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, an award-winning author best known for creating American Girl’s historical character, Rebecca Rubin, brought to “life” in the company’s first Jewish doll.
As moms and grandmas cradled girls, and girls cradled their dolls, Greene described the origins of Rebecca Rubin as a vehicle to enable and inspire readers to imagine what it was like growing up during the great wave of immigration to America around the turn of the 20th century. After reading more than 100 books on immigrant life and the innovations of the decade, as well as drawing from her own family’s stories and making site visits to Ellis Island and the Lower East Side, Greene developed Rebecca and her Russian Jewish family, striving to keep their traditions and their values as an important part of their new lives in bustling New York City in 1914. She even displayed personal artifacts that inspired those featured in the book, including a (whole, with head, feet and tail) mink neckwrap, a crocheted doily, a Coney Island Kewpie doll, nested Russian dolls and a Russian scarf.
Of particular interest to the PJ Library audience was Greene’s emphasis of the Rebecca books on including Jewish traditions and perspectives so that children of all backgrounds would learn about them, and the inclusion of many examples of mitzvot (good deeds) and tikkun olam (doing things to make the world a better place. Greene shared advice Rebecca receives in one book, “your heart will tell you the right thing to do,” when faced with a difficult choice that might be able to help those in need.
Greene answered many questions from the girls before the winners of a wonderful array of raffle prizes, including Lord & Taylor gifts, a Rebecca doll and her Shabbat set, were announced. She then spent more than an hour signing books and speaking with the girls individually.
One of many three-generation families in attendance included Jill Yesner, her mother Ellen Turkish, and daughter Sloane, age 6. The Yesners have been receiving PJ Library books and music two years. “We’re avid readers,” said Jill “so we signed up for the program to enhance our Jewish home as soon as we learned about it. We felt the tea would be a wonderful way to enjoy an afternoon together around our shared interests, and for Sloane to learn more about the Rebecca books and Rebecca’s Jewish life.”
“I like Rebecca because we like so many of the same things,” said second grader Jolie Reise, who has had a Rebecca doll for years and is now reading the books herself. “I always wanted to be an actress, too, and we’re both Jewish. I can play with her using her Shabbat and Hanukkah for celebrations just like we have at home.” Jolie’s mom, Alyssa, signed up for PJ Library when she heard about it at Donna Klein Jewish Academy, where she serves as PTO President. She agrees that Rebecca, as well as PJ Library’s books and music, are wonderful ways to reinforce Jewish learning and values in their home.
PJ Library in South Palm Beach County is made possible by generous support from the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County and local generous donors.