Strengthening Jewish identity, one free book at a time

Lerner Family 2

Harry Lerner, owner of Lerner Publishing Group (center), pictured with his son, Adam Lerner, CEO of Lerner, and his daughter, Mia Posada, Illustrator at the company.

The Harry Lerner family, lead sponsor of JFCS’ PJ Library program for 13 years, will receive agency’s Friends of the Family Award

Since it was established in Minneapolis 13 years ago, JFCS’ PJ Library program has provided free Jewish books to more than 4,700 kids and 2,700 families in the Twin Cities, helping strengthen their Jewish identity. The program also holds a variety of engagement programs throughout the year where families can meet and connect with other families and organizations. 

Needless to say, PJ Library has made a huge impact in the Jewish community for more than a decade – and none of it would have happened without the support of the Harry Lerner family. The Lerner family, which owns Lerner Publishing Group in Minneapolis, was the initial funder of PJ Library when it was established locally at JFCS in 2009 and has continued to do so every year since.

PJ Library is an international program that is sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, based in New York. It was Harold Grinspoon himself, who knows Harry Lerner from their years in the publishing industry, who called him 13 years ago to see if he would sponsor PJ Library in Minneapolis. 

Harry Lerner was already familiar with the program at the time – Kar-Ben Publishing, which is owned by Lerner Publishing Group, is one of the longtime publishers of PJ Library books. Harry was a fan of the program and agreed to fund it in Minneapolis for three years at the time. “I liked that it was local and I agreed to it right away,” Harry said. That three-year commitment is now going on 13 years and counting.

Harry said it’s been an easy decision to continue supporting PJ Library and JFCS. “We like it – it’s part of our mission in the community – supporting literacy and Jewish organizations,” he said.

For their longtime support of JFCS and the PJ Library Minneapolis program, the Harry Lerner family will be presented with JFCS’ Friends of the Family Award at the 34th Annual Benefit on Dec. 3. JFCS CEO Judy Halper said the agency was grateful to the Lerner family for all its generous support. 

“Their contribution of books and financial support has enabled our program to grow and flourish and become one of the most envied programs of its kind in the country,” she said. “Creating strong Jewish identity in children and offering inclusivity to young families is the purpose of this program, and the Lerner family can take pride in the generational impact this program has achieved.”

Harry, pictured with seven of his nine grandchildren.

Harold Grinspoon said he was thrilled that JFCS was honoring the Lerner family. “I can remember very distinctly when I first encountered Kar-Ben,” he said. “It is a major responsibility making Jewish books available to Jews all over North America. Many years later, I am so pleased to say that I love working with the Lerner family and Kar-Ben.”

Adam Lerner, Harry’s son and CEO of Lerner Publishing Group, likes that PJ Library publishes books about not only popular Jewish holidays like Hanukka and Passover, but lesser known ones as well, such as Tu BiShvat, among many other Jewish topics. “We know young families that get the books,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal program. We applaud what Harold Grinspoon has done.” 

Lerner Publishing Group is definitely a family business – Harry founded the company in 1959 and grew the business with his wife, Sharon, an illustrator and author who passed away in 1982. In addition to Adam, Harry’s daughter, Mia Posada, is an illustrator at the company and his wife, Sandy, is a longtime proofreader. Several of Harry’s grandchildren are also working at the business in various capacities. Harry’s two other children are Danny, who lives in New York, and Leah, who lives in Kfar Saba, Israel. Strengthening Jewish identity is a huge part of its work – since Lerner Publishing Group acquired Kar-Ben Publishing 20 years ago, the latter has grown to become the largest children’s Judaica publisher in the world.  

“As children’s book publishers, they recognize the importance and value of reading to children,” Joni Sussman, Publisher at Kar-Ben, said of the Lerner family. “I have seen first-hand the family’s devotion to making Jewish children’s books accessible to families. Their support of PJ Library helps make that happen.”

About PJ Library

PJ Library provides free Jewish books in the mail to families with children age birth through 12. Books range from Jewish holidays to Jewish values to Jewish heroes. Locally, PJ Library Minneapolis sends monthly books to more than 1,600 children throughout Minneapolis and the west metro. Since the program started in Minneapolis, more than 4,700 kids and 2,700 families have been recipients.

In addition to receiving free PJ Library books, families are invited to a variety of engagement programs throughout the year where they can meet and connect with other families and organizations. The programs are accessible, social, and educational. Families also receive a monthly e-newsletter that includes parenting suggestions, blogs, DYI activities to do as a family, and a calendar of upcoming events.

PJ Library Minneapolis celebrated its 13th Anniversary with a “Book Mitzvah” event this summer – click here for information on the program.