Archive for May, 2011
A cultural meeting place in
By RALPH DOBRIN
Author of “How to Avoid Armageddon”
Available through Amazon click: www.amazon.com type how to avoid armageddon
One of the first things that struck me when I came to Israel in 1957 was the number of places selling books. There were shops, stalls and peddlers offering books everywhere – even in stairwells and stacked between buildings. Some of the people selling the books had been scholars in some other jack-booted country before searching for salvation in Israel. I remember buying a second-hand version of Somerset Maugham’s epic Of Human Bondage, from a recent arrival from Hungary who was happy to give me a brief, erudite dissertation on the book. You could find books – new books and second-hand books in all languages and on a myriad of subjects. It seemed that people here were scrupulously following their reputation as “people of the book.”
But over the years, technological progress and aggressive marketing techniques have changed all this. Technology through its various electronic and digital advances has relegated many old books to dank cellars, dusty attics and the dumpster, while one dead-pan, impersonal book marketing chain has pretty much monopolized most of the market, together with another two lesser, yet multi-stored chains. Year by year many of the dwindling number of remaining shops – often run by the progeny of those store owners of the early days of the state – close down and make way for yet another cell-phone outlet, computer or clothing store. C’est la vie!
But life is full of exceptions that run counter to trends and confound expectations. These exceptions are very often noteworthy not only because they are exceptions, but because they are exceptional. Such is Holzer Books, which opened in April 2010, in downtown Jerusalem. It’s a book store and cultural hangout where you will find books galore, new and old, on just about any subject – apart from smut – and where you’ll be able to meet a fairly wide cross-section of Jerusalem society of all ages and religious, ideological and political persuasions, including Hareidim looking for secular books on philosophy and science and secular folks looking for religious texts.
The owner, Leor Holzer opened the store because he simply loves books. On the day I visited the store, he was sitting at his desk near the entrance, with a computer on one side and a 19th century tome on the other side, the cover of which he was repairing with the skill of an old-time book-binder. Until a few generations ago, all books passed through the various stages of production and ended up in the patient, deft hands of the book-binder. In our technological age, this too has become a craft that is practised by fewer and fewer people. Asked how he learned book-binding, he smiled and said, “When you need to know how to do something you just learn how to do it.”
It is this same aptitude that he employed when taking an interest in the writings of Virgil and Ovid. He studied Latin so as to be able to read these classical works in their original. When he is not in his store, 28-year-old Leor is working on his doctorate in the physical theories of Kabbala. He studied Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University.
Holzer Books has a downstairs level and an upstairs gallery. While he has a selection of new books, it is his collection of rare antiquarian books that makes this a uniquely special address for book lovers. Among the huge selection of books in many languages – mainly Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English, German – one can find a Hebrew-Latin dictionary Bibliis Hebraicis by Johannes Simonis, printed in 1753 and in very good condition.
While browsing I found an early 17th century book by Raban and a first edition of the Katowice Conference of Hibbat Zion convened by Leon Pinkser in 1884, a 17th century handwritten Yemenite Hagaddah, as well as entire shelves of other pre-20th century books.
Holzer Books is also an address for the casual reader or for someone seriously looking for a book on just about any subject, including poetry, art, scientific research, philosophy, mysticism, religious books as well as school books.
The gallery features exhibits by local artists and doubles as a venue for talks and lectures held almost every evening on philosophy, literature, mysticism, Kabbalah, the weekly reading of the Torah (Parashat Hashavua), poetry readings and book signings by authors. It has become a meeting place for people of the mosaic of communities that make up Jerusalem – Jews, Muslims and Christians of all leanings. The place is completely a-political. All talks and lectures, in Hebrew or English are free of charge. A chess club meets twice a month.
In a back-handed compliment, the eclectic open-mindedness of Holzer Books has aroused the ire of some denizens of Meah Shearim’s more conservative souls, leading to him being featured on the peshkavilim (large notices pasted on the walls).
Holzer Books has no connection with any religious, political or ideological organization. It is affiliated solely to a deep respect and love of books and learning and the good of the community.
Leor was born in San Francisco and moved to Israel at the age of two. his store is at the corner of 91 Jaffa Road, and Hamashiach Borochov Lane. Phone 076-5433800. It is open between 9 am till 11 pm. On Fridays till 3 pm. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The website is www.holzerbooks.com and features the monthly schedule of talks. It also lists many of the books available according to title and price.
Judging by the many people who visit Leor Holzer’s store, the deep love of books for which Jews have always been known, is still going strong – at least in Jerusalem.
“How to Avoid Armageddon” is also available at Holzer Books