A Jerusalem Icon Saved – Sefer v’Sefel

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.  reading

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.Sefer v'Sefel

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!


Dinner with Buddha

Dinner with BuddhaAuthor Roland Merullo has served Buddha breakfast and lunch and, now, in his new book Dinner with Buddha, dinner. Here we rejoin the characters we met and learned to love in the two earlier books.

The narrator is 52 year old Otto Ringling, former senior editor for a book publishing firm in New York. Otto is once again called on by his sister, Cecelia, to join her esteemed Russian/Tibetan monk husband, Volya Rinpoche, in an adventure.

From their North Dakota retreat and meditation center, they head out to the mountains, guided by one of Seese’s dreams, stopping along the way to meet people based on her directions. Otto’s skepticism, mixed with admiration, toward his much respected brother-in-law provides a foundation upon which readers can stand firmly.

Volya Rinpoche’s enthusiasm and joy in living in the moment, as expressed in his slightly off kilter English and newcomer’s understanding of American culture, repeatedly brings a smile to the reader’s lips. When he adopts the phrase, “Bet your ass, man!” from someone along their journey, Otto reflects on the trouble he could get into –

“I didn’t have the energy just then for yet another lesson in the American vernacular, though I found myself wondering, tiredly, if one day this new affectation would get him into trouble. In a week or two weeks, up in the mountains somewhere – Wyoming, Colorado, Montana – a tough waitress would ask him if he wanted anything besides butter with his oatmeal and he’d say, “Bet your ass,” and there would be a scene. Or he’d hold the hotel door for a bull rider and his girlfriend on the morning after a rodeo and the young woman would thank him, and he’d say, “Bet your ass.” Or we’d be in a library in New Mexico, there to do research on American Indian artifacts, and the librarian would ask, “Can I help you” Bet your ass you can. Or we’d be in a rest area, the kind that were peopled by lonely men in sedans, and Rinpoche would head for the edge of the trees, curious about some butterfly or bird he’d seen there, and one of the men would say, “Want to take a walk?” And so on. There was no end to the trouble a misplaced “bet your ass” could cause a person. This was my mind spinning. this was my mind.”

BuddhaRinpoche’s syntax in English is charming. Otto’s relationship with him is complex. Seese’s love for both her husband and her brother is generous and unconditional.

The reader learns, along with Otto, to appreciate and trust Rinpoche’s wisdom, even as he’s described as having a Speedo bathing suit which Otto describes thus,

“Given the inappropriately small size of Rinpoche’s Speedo, and the powerful torso and legs it revealed, and given the kind of antics of which my brother-in-law was capable, I said a small prayer of thanks, as we made our way to the elevator, that, this time at least, he’d decided to wear his robe over the bathing suit.”

Incongruously, Rinpoche Volya joyously yells, “Colorado!” as he cannon balls into the motel swimming pool and rises at 3 a.m. everyday to sit in silent meditation without moving a muscle for 3 hours. He loves his wife and daughter with all his heart and yet when Otto is consumed with worry about them, after hearing about a possible threat to their lives, says:

“Right now. In this minute, in this second, Chinese killing?”


Tapping three times on the table. “In this second, they killing?”


“They hurting Shelsa?” (his daughter)


“Worry is in your mind the pictures. You think you see these men but what you now in this minute see is this,” he pointed to his own face. “And this,” the teacup.”Worry is worry, man.”

Something is afoot. Changes are on their way. Hints abound but clarity is slow in coming. No matter. Every chapter is filled with gems for the reader to remember for her own life journey.

I loved this book. I didn’t want it to end. I worried about whether there would be “Dessert with Buddha” or if this was IT.  anxiety

The final Merullo book about these people I’d grown to love.

And then I heard Rinpoche’s voice and tried to integrate his instruction to “rest inside that love now, man, and we be quiet.” and not to “pay too much attention (to that feeling) or try to hold onto it because the part that wants to hold on is the part you letted (sic) go to have this feeling.”

meditation 11


Buy and Enjoy!