When he’s not researching the relationship between Judaism and technology as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, David Zvi Kalman, 31, has a handful of Jewish media side projects.
One of those is Print-O-Craft, a publishing house for contemporary Jewish books.
So far, he’s published The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher, a contemporary bentsher; The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics, a comic book-style version of the most famous tractate of the Mishnah; A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts From the First Century to 1969; and several additions of The Asufa Haggadah.
After Kalman graduates, he plans to dedicate more of his time to the publishing house. He also wants to expand into children’s books, as well as continue to publish Jewish academic and Jewish art books.
“Jewish publishing is in an interesting place right now,” Kalman said. “Publishing in general is having a hard time; Jewish presses are no different. A lot of Jewish publishing has a nonprofit model, where basically somebody funds a book or funds a series of books and hopefully they sell, but you’re not relying on the market to justify the existence of the book. Print-O-Craft is a for-profit LLC, and it’s for profit on purpose because I would like the books that we publish to be justified by the market itself.”
Kalman’s journey with Print-O-Craft began in 2014. At the time, two engaged couples he knew were looking for bentshers for their weddings, but felt unsatisfied with what was available on the market. One couple wanted a bentsher with more Yiddish music, the other wanted something friendlier, and they both wanted an LGBTQ-inclusive bentsher.
Kalman stepped in with a solution. He would design a better bentsher, with some help from the friends.
“Bentshers are very visible books, meaning they’re often used at Shabbat meals,” Kalman said. “You bring them out before bentshing, so it’s the kind of thing where you’re already having a conversation and, into the meal, someone brings out a copy of this book and you can have a conversation about the book itself. It’s easier for people to find out about it and get to look at it at the same time.”
Kalman didn’t want to create the bentsher only for the weddings. He decided he would set up a publishing house, called Print-O-Craft, to sell them in perpetuity. He also has a sense that he would eventually publish other books as well.
Kalman got the domain name shabb.es for the company’s website, something he said he might change in the future because it confuses people.
“When the bentsher was being produced, there was this sense that it was a haymish publication,” Kalman said. “Shabb.es went along with that, but it has caused me a good amount of grief as well.”
Print-O-Craft continued with just the bentsher until Brooklyn-based artist Jessica Tamar Deutsch, 28, approached Kalman about publishing her book, The Illustrated Pirkei Avot, which she had created as her senior thesis project at Parsons School of Design.
“With that book, and given the strong visuals to the bentsher, the thought was that this would be a house that would be Jewish art books,” Kalman said.
Deutsch said she learned of Print-O-Craft from a coworker, who had ordered bentshers from the publishing house for his rabbinical college. She had submitted The Illustrated Pirkei Avot to other Jewish publishing houses but the book wasn’t accepted until Print-O-Craft came along.
They thought the editing process would take a year, but with everyone involved having other commitments like school and freelance work, it ended up taking three.
“It was a new project for [Print-O-Craft],” Deutsch said. “This is my first ever attempt at making a graphic novel. It was new for all of us, so we didn’t really realize what we were committing to.”
Print-O-Craft’s identity as a Jewish art book publishing house further solidified with The Asufa Haggadah, created by an artist collective in Tel Aviv.
But with the publication of A Rainbow Thread, edited by Noam Sienna, Print-O-Craft has started to expand in genre. This most recent addition to the publishing house is an academic work.
“I look for books that are important, that feel important and that they’re doing something that has not already been done in the space of Jewish publishing,” Kalman said. “Sienna’s book, for example, is adding huge amounts of new data to a conversation about LGBTQ Jewish identity, so that’s an important book. Jessica’s book is important because it gives you a sense of what Pirkei Avot could be, in a way that you would not have otherwise, and it’s a massively important educational tool as well.”
Jewish media is Kalman’s passion, which has led him to start Jewish Public Media, a network of Jewish podcasts, and a website called AtoneNet, where people can anonymously share their Yom Kippur apologies, among other projects.
“I’m a firm believer in making good ideas accessible to large audiences,” Kalman said, “and books are still an incredibly important way to do that.”