08 June 2009

Where's the Library?

We have two library science interns working in our library here at CBE. We found them by writing to one of the local training centers for such skill sets and boy, did we get lucky. They are extraordinarily helpful and using this occasion to enjoy their own discovery the quirky curiosos of American Jewish literary life of the late 19th and early 20th century.

It's caused us, as we occasionally meet over old books, found maps, first editions of Heschel's the Sabbath, an autographed copy of Elie Wiesel's Ani Maaamin, with composition commissioned for the artistry of Darius Milhaud, and many other treats, to enjoy fully a collection that has gone too long uncelebrated and to also begin to think of ways to recast it as our congregation grows and yet again embraces a new generation of Brooklyn Jews in search of meaning and identity.

What is the role of Synagogue library? What was it historically? What should it be moving forward?

A century ago the library was to Americanize and open up to a generation the vistas of non-traditional Jewish life, while retaining a foothold in the old. Mid-century, there remained the need for literacy while embracing the fully utopian ideals of an American life. And now--with media supreme, one hears of dvds and web-based learning, making, to some degree, the library obsolete. That's not a direction I want to go in.

Why even generally--our own neighborhood's Brooklyn Public Library on weekends is increasingly less hospitable to quiet learning and contemplation because in the summer months, bands blare from the library steps. So to be clear, the role of the library in broader culture has shifted. What of it in Jewish life?

My friend Rabbi Avi Weinstein once said famously, "Libraries are anti-semitic because you have to be quiet and Jews make noise when they learn!" That was a joke, in case you're wondering.

But what of the library? What should it be? Where should we be going?

I'm wondering what you think?

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