Jacob G. Behrman, the longtime head of the Jewish educational publishing company Behrman House, located in Springfield, died Sept. 23 at the age of 91.
A Summit resident for many years and a member of Temple Sinai there, Behrman moved to Bethesda, Md., following his retirement in 2000 to be near his daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Jeffrey Sherman, and four of his grandchildren.
Behrman took over the family business in the late 1940s from his father, Louis, who had founded the company in 1921, the same year Jacob was born.
Under Jacob’s leadership, the company published books and religious texts used primarily, though not exclusively, in religious school education over the past half century. According to the company website, Behrman saw the textbooks that his children brought home from religious school and believed he could improve upon them.
Among the books he went on to publish were The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals by David de Sola and the Jewish Heritage Series, a set of introductory volumes whose contributors included the novelist Meyer Levin.
One series in particular stood out as Jacob’s favorite, according to his daughter-in-law Vicki Weber: The Rabbi’s Bible, whose coauthors included the late Rabbi Morrison Bial, then of Temple Sinai. Published by Behrman House in the 1960s, it features the full text of Torah along with traditional commentary. “He felt the content was exceptionally rich while remaining true to the original Torah text,” said Weber, head of marketing, sales, and strategic research at Behrman House. “It was accessible to young people but still authentic.”
Behrman was an honorary member of the National Association of Temple Educators, and he received an honorary degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1998.
Behrman grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn and earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College. He served in World War II, earning a Purple Heart from injuries sustained during the Battle of the Bulge. He joined the family business after the war, when it was still located in New York City, on Broadway near Herald Square. The company moved to West Orange in the mid-1980s as the business grew. He continued to run Behrman House until the late 1990s, when his son David stepped in. In 2000, as Jacob retired, the business consolidated all of its warehouse and office space in one location in Springfield, where it is now located.
“Jacob Behrman’s legacy lies in the library of books that, thanks to him, saw the light of day. He lives on through Behrman House,” wrote historian Jonathan Sarna, in an on-line condolence book.
In addition to David Behrman and Vicki Weber and the Shermans, Behrman is survived by his grandchildren, Rebecca, Joel, and Benjamin Behrman and Aaron, Hannah, Jonathan, and Ruth Sherman.
Funeral services were held Sept. 24 at Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue and he was buried at Ohev Sholom Cemetery, both in Washington, DC. He was predeceased by his first wife, Rita Osband Behrman. His second marriage ended in divorce.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Jacob Behrman Israel and Holocaust Scholarship Fund, c/o CES JDS or to the B-CC Rescue Squad.