It is with sadness that we inform Kar-Ben’s readers of the death of Ben Saypol, the “Ben” in Kar-Ben, who died last week at the age of 44 from colon cancer. Ben’s mom is Judye Groner, the co-founder of Kar-Ben along with Madeline Wikler, whose daughter Karen is the “Kar” in Kar-Ben. Last year on this Facebook page we posted an interview with the charming Ben, the little boy blowing the shofar on Kar-Ben’s mini-calendar for many years. In tribute to Ben we are re-running this interview. May his memory be for a blessing.
September 9, 2016
For over four decades, Kar-Ben has been well known for its beautiful Jewish books for children and its Jewish calendars. One perennially popular product is the Kar-Ben Mini Jewish Calendar. In fact, it is the highest selling product on Karben.com so far this month, and tens of thousands have been sold over the years. As many of our customers who have been buying the calendar for decades know, one significant feature hasn't changed: the photograph on its cover of a young boy blowing a shofar.
And while time has stood still for the boy in the image, we wanted to catch up with the formerly little boy. Meet Ben Saypol, the son of one of Kar-Ben founding's duo, Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler.
Kar-Ben: Many of our customers have purchased the Mini Jewish Calendar for years, and the photo of the little boy blowing the shofar hasn’t changed. Can you tell us when and where that photo of you was taken?
Ben: That photo of me was taken when I was about 3 years old. I am 43 now! It was taken at the beautiful Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring, Maryland near where Kar-Ben Copies home office was located. Mom dressed me up in that nice outfit, Aunt Madeline (Wikler) the resident photographer took me to the gardens, and she told me to blow as best I could. Honestly back then I couldn't blow very well, but I got better as I got older and did in fact blow shofar in synagogue on the high holidays when I was younger.
Kar-Ben: How did you feel about being the face of Kar-Ben’s calendars—then? Now?
Ben: I loved -- and still love -- being the face of Kar-Ben's calendars. I consider it an honor. It makes some sense given that I am in fact the "Ben" of Kar-Ben! Mom (Judye Groner) and Aunt Madeline (Wikler) founded Kar-Ben Copies for Jewish children, and so they named their company after their two youngest children. Aunt Madeline had Judy and Karen (Kar), and my Mom (Judye Groner) had Josh and Benjamin (Ben). I think they were also being clever given that Kar, Ben, and Copies sounded like "Carbon Copies," which is how you Xeroxed back in the early 70's! But don't quote me on this last fact.
Kar-Ben: Anything else you’d like our customers to know—anything biographical that you’d be inclined to share?
Ben: Sure! After Jewish Day School (K-8) and public school (9-12), I attended Northwestern University in Chicago, studied History and Theater, and then was a professional actor in the musical theater for 5 years. The highlight of my career was playing Tony in the National Tour of West Side Story. I then changed fields to that of Education. I taught in the Colorado Public Schools for 3 years, and then attended graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I got a Masters in Music Vocal performance and then a PhD in Theater Studies. My specialty is Interactive Theater for Social Change--using theater to promote dialogue and solutions around social issues. After doing it with colleges and universities for several years, I now have my own company, Theater Delta. We work with colleges and universities, medical providers, the US military, the World Bank, and others. I love what I do.
When I was young I actually was a shofer blower in my local shul on the high holidays, but then I became a self taught Cantorial Soloist. I have been chanting services at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL outside of Chicago for the past 22 years. I love doing it.