The two women who founded Kar-Ben, the Jewish-interest children’s imprint, will retire in December after almost 40 years in publishing.
Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler, now editorial directors at the house, started the business in a basement in 1974 when neither could find a suitable Passover haggadah for her children. So they co-wrote their own, My Very Own Haggadah. Their photocopied and stapled book was rejected by publishers, so they self-published it and quickly sold out their press run of 5,000 copies. They named their publishing company Kar-Ben Copies, after two of their children, Karen and Ben, and as a play on the words “carbon copies.”
Almost four decades and more than two million copies later, My Very Own Haggadah is still in print. The initial popularity of the book led Groner and Wikler to publish to and grow the market for children’s books about Jewish holidays and practices, and they gradually added authors and subjects. The books have sold not only to libraries and Jewish institutions but also to generations of parents interested in passing along their religious and cultural heritage.
Kar-Ben was acquired by Lerner Publishing in 2001, and Groner and Wikler became editorial directors, editing more than 200 titles in that time. "They stayed on for more than 10 years, and I think it says something nice about them and us," said publisher Joni Sussman. "This was their baby and they were happy to help us grow it."
The two women have been honored with the Bookie Award of the Women’s National Book Association and with the Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award of the Association of Jewish Libraries. "In the Jewish book world, they're really legendary," Sussman said. Sussman will assume the duties of both women.
Kar-Ben has more than 300 titles in print, and publishes 18 to 20 new titles annually.