One of the toughest things about living a country where the primary language is not English is the lack of easy access to books written in English. I’ve been living in English book poverty for 36 years. Every time I’m in the U.S. I swallow books whole at the amazing public libraries. I have been known to sit in Barnes & Noble for entire days, reveling in the sheer luxury of being surrounded by books, glorious books.
Kindle has made my feeling of impoverishment much less poignant and, yet, there’s still something comforting about the feel in my hands of a book made of paper, bound in a cover, with artwork and author info.
In a little alleyway, up some slippery stone stairs, resides a true icon of Jerusalem called Sefer v’Sefel. Since my very first days wandering the streets of my new and quite glorious city, this super well-organized 2nd hand bookstore has been my refuge in the desert of English books. The proprietor, Uri, a native Hebrew-speaker, for some reason unknown to me, opened up well before I moved to Israel in 1979 and presided over his kingdom with equanimity, a pleasant demeanor and excellent recommendations for almost 40 years.
For the past several years that he has been unwell, which came at a time when ebooks put a serious dent in the store’s income, Uri remained a steadfast presence in his realm. But I began to have a feeling of doom walking up those familiar stone stairs, anticipating the day when the gate would be locked and there would be a sign with the dreaded word – CLOSED
Last week when I walked in the (thankfully open) store, I saw a cheerful young woman putting away some books in their rightful place. I responded to her welcoming smile with one of my own and told her I was very happy to see that the store was still in operation.
Her response was, “Well, I certainly am, too, since we just bought the place.”
My heart signaled the bittersweet reality to my brain. I won’t have the enjoyment of those short but lovely conversations with Uri anymore and Uri won’t experience firsthand the love and appreciation he inspires in his decades -loyal customers but the icon that his “baby”, Sefer v’Sefel, has become will remain alive and he can pamper himself a bit now that he no longer has to keep up his tradition of ALWAYS being behind the Sefer v’Sefel desk, rain or shine, economic boom or bust.
Thanks, Uri, for 40 years of consistency and the love of books.
Best of luck to Zia!