My father, of blessed memory, could not enter a bookstore without piling through the stacks of sepharim and books, and ultimately purchasing one or more of them. Simply put, the man was in love with books.
And because he was, our family of seven was surrounded by them. Shelves upon shelves of Jewish and secular texts stood proudly wherever we lived and played a significant role in our lives. Once we had to move from a house to an apartment and my parents determined that one unit would not suffice our needs, so they set about renting apartments 209 and 210 on Water Street in Kitchener, Ont. The latter was mostly where we slept and ate, and 209 was for the library.
Throughout the years my dad’s collection grew to include 10,000 volumes. Our relationship with them went well past just living with them. Every waking moment we were home was an opportunity to study our familial backdrop and learn one more title and memorize their authors. At a very early age, I knew Martin Buber had written I and Thou and that there were 63 tractates in Shas (gemarahs). Baba Kama, Baba Batra and Baba Metziah, three of those tractates, were household words.
I recall learning through the library, there were numerous subjects in life including philosophy, psychology and astrology. At some point in our growing-up years, Shakespeare crept onto those shelves as my father publicly debated the importance of teaching about Shylock, a Venetian Jewish money lender in Merchant of Venice, in later grades in school.
My first reading about sexuality came from a book at the bottom of one of those shelves called The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. I wasn’t entirely surprised when one day it was moved to a higher shelf.
I am not a bibliophile. Like my four sisters however, I inherited 2,500 sepharim and books from my father. This was a tremendous honour and our way of remembering our dad’s legacy which was an in-depth quest for Torah knowledge and an insatiable awareness of God’s creation through broader reading.
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It was also very onerous.
Anyone who has been bequeathed a very large and heavy library knows it’s not easy. Where do you put them? Do I need custom-built shelves like my father used to hold Maimonides’ bulky texts on Jewish law, or the dozens of sepharim attempting to define the Chumash? What about the vintage books dating back to the 1600s: do I need temperature control?
Since my father passed away in 1989 my inheritance has gone from sitting in a warehouse to a setup in my various places of living (sitting on Ikea shelves and never with temperature control. The pages of those very old books were frail but never seem to crumble).
Seven years ago my collection lined the walls of the multi-purpose room at Ve’ahavta on Bridgeland Avenue. The board and staff agreed to allow the books to look out at us, as they did when I was a child, during our meetings and day-to-day operations. I was grateful.
But now, as time has it, most of my father’s collection will find a new home, an environment where they will be used by Torah scholars. Rabbi Daniel Korobkin and the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto have graciously accepted the Jewish texts. This final transition of a collection Rabbi Phyvle Rosensweig spent years acquiring will once again play a greater role in the intellectual growth of our people.
I will miss my father’s library. I will miss Buber, Shylock and The Naked Ape.
I miss my childhood.