Hungry for New Readers, PJ Pitches to Matzah Munchers

4/11/2016

By Jessica Steinberg The Times of Israel

Come Passover and the hametz-free kitchen, some people miss having a cereal box to read at the breakfast table each morning.

PJ Library, a program that distributes Jewish children’s books around North America, has a kosher-for-Passover alternative: matzah boxes printed with PJ Library material.

“We know that Passover seders are the most observed Jewish event in the calendar, so it seemed like an ‘a-ha’ moment,” said Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, president of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which sponsors the program. “The PJ Library matzah box could help us get to families that are not in our sphere so far, but will certainly walk through a supermarket somewhere in North America during the holiday.”

More than 400,000 Jewish children and families receive PJ Library content each month, according to the foundation, and some eight million books have been distributed across some 200 North American Jewish communities.

The foundation estimates it reaches about 25% of the potential market for Jewish children’s books, said Meredith Lewis, director of content for the foundation.

When the foundation approached Yehuda Matzos, a private Israeli company with a US distributor, Kayco/Kedem Food Products, the matzah company was unfamiliar with Harold Grinspoon, the 86-year-old philanthropist whose foundation established PJ Library.

Yehuda Matzos had never “tampered” with its labels, said Mordy Dicker, the company’s director of business development. But it got on board.

“Our reaction was, he [Grinspoon] has a presence, and he puts his money where his mouth is, and he is a guy who promotes something so important to Jewish life, and you start saying, ‘What can we do to help?’” said Dicker. “We’re in for it.”

Yehuda Matzos reprinted its traditional orange and white one-pound boxes and shrink-wrapped the larger, five-pound matzah boxes with the PJ Library logo and a cartoon illustration by children’s book author and illustrator Todd Parr, whose “The Harold Book” tells the story of founder Harold Grinspoon.

The PJ Library content also includes a URL to direct families to the PJ Library sign-up form online and a toll-free number to call with questions.

“It’s driving people to our website,” said Lewis. “We’re doing a lot around Passover. We have books related to matzah and Passover, we have an origami fortune teller project that asks questions, there are recipes and crafts.”

The foundation is also expanding the reach of PJ Library, said Grinspoon, with a pilot project of chapter books aimed at kids aged 9 to 11.

There are also new PJ Library books for Passover, including Brian Wildsmith’s “Exodus,” which tells the story of the Exodus in a rich, gold-lined book evocative of ancient Egypt, said Lewis.

For Yehuda Matzos, branding of any kind on the familiar box is a new step.

“We’ve never advertised anything on the matzah box,” said Dicker. “It’s not sacred, but it’s for the seder, so this was a first.”

The private company is the number-one imported matzah to the US, said Dicker, and has won taste tests for the best-tasting matzah in the US. While Dicker would not reveal the number of Yehuda Matzos boxes sold for Passover, he said the company sells in every US state and every grocery chain that has a kosher section.

“Even in parts of the country where you wouldn’t know there’s a Jew within 500 miles, there are kosher sites and we deliver,” said Dicker. “Passover is still the number one holiday for people who aren’t religious. If we have thousands looking at a box of matzah and saying, ‘What is PJ Library,’ then that was the goal of teaming up with them.”