Philanthropist Harold Grinspoon has a lot to be proud of.
Through his foundation (launched in 1993), the New England real estate mogul has given more than $100 million to charity, mostly Jewish causes. The PJ Library — his idea for connecting Jewish children to their heritage through literature and music — recently celebrated the purchase of its millionth book.
And, at age 81, Grinspoon is a cancer survivor and still nimble enough to do Pilates and dance aerobics, rounding out his daily regimen with a walk — and a vigorous one at that.
“You’re lucky he agreed to sit down for an interview,” said Rosalie Eisen, director of community development for the PJ Library. “He usually likes to do these walking.”
Grinspoon, of Springfield, Mass., had plenty of opportunity to walk the Bay Area during his recent trip, with stops in San Francisco, the East Bay and Silicon Valley. He met with donors to the PJ Library for the first time since its launch five years ago.
The PJ Library (“PJ” is for pajamas) provides families with Jewish children 6 months to 8 years with free, Jewish-themed books and music. Each month families receive a new book or CD in the mail and are encouraged to enjoy it together.
Approximately 140 communities nationwide are using the PJ Library, according to Grinspoon. About half of the families receiving books identify as interfaith.
“It’s fantastic,” Grinspoon said of the program’s widespread success. “People love the idea of looking at a Jewish book with a Jewish concept. The kids love it and the parents love it. Many [adults] are getting an education in Judaism for the first time.”
The PJ Library is available under different auspices throughout the community — the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley have partnered with Grinspoon’s foundation to deliver books to families. The program also operates in Santa Cruz County.
The Jim Joseph Foundation, based in San Francisco, has provided funds for the PJ Library for the three Bay Area federations for the first three years.
Each year, the PJ Library purchases 88 unique titles for eight different age groups, working with about 50 publishers. Grinspoon puts up $60 per year for each PJ Library subscription, and regional Jewish agencies, synagogues and donor families provide $40 in matching funds. Since the program’s inception, Grinspoon has given away more than $2 million in books.
He credits his wife, Diane Troderman, with pushing him to transition the foundation from local Jewish funding in Massachusetts to national Jewish causes. Philanthropists have helped Grinspoon expand the PJ Library across the U.S. and Canada.
Inspiration for the PJ Library came in an unlikely place. A story on National Public Radio about Imagination Library, a literacy program founded by country star Dolly Parton, grabbed Grinspoon’s attention. With philanthropic partners, Parton (who grew up in poverty) provides nearly 500,000 free books every month to inner-city children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Approximately 44,000 preschool-age children in Israel also receive books through Sifriyat Pijama, a version of the PJ Library in the classroom that emphasizes Jewish values.
“I have been blessed to find a way to help these families,” Grinspoon said. “Education is key, especially in building the parent/child relationship.”