Twenty-eight years ago Marv and I packed it in, leased our house in Palos Verdes, and trotted off to Israel for a year. I had been accepted to a program at Tel Aviv University. Marv came along for the ride, the adventure, and chronicler of the experience. Uncle Dolly graciously allowed us to settle into his comfortable apartment in Ramat HaSharon with the caveat, “If I come, you’ll have to move out.” In typical Uncle Dolly fashion, he remained in the USA for the whole time we were there.
Shelves of books filled the living room. One shelf contained battered, yellowed, books that had belonged to my Zayda—my grandfather and Dolly’s father. They had been in storage. My uncle knew how his father longed to visit Eretz Yisrael. Dolly had the books shipped over as a tribute to his father’s memory by bringing the books he loved to Israel in spirit.
One night, thumbing through the faded books I noticed a slim volume with one Hebrew word on the cover, “Shmot.”
I opened it carefully and some brittle pages detached themselves. I turned to the title page. “Wow,” I said to Marv, “this is my mother’s book and this is in her handwriting.
Ashford Street Hebrew
I noticed a date, 1929. “She would have been twelve years old when she studied this. I can’t believe I am studying this book at Tel Aviv University now, Sefer Shmot, the Book of Exodus, with the same commentaries by Rashi.”
When we packed up to come home several months later I added this new found treasure into the carton of volumes we were shipping back. It had a place on my bookshelf and rarely emerged, except when I told the story to friends or family or anyone who would listen.
Recently, in a Zoom gathering with my havurah, we shared family treasures. I showed the book and felt the pages crackle under my fingers. “Why don’t you get it restored?” someone asked.
I approached my dear friend Krista, artist, poet, editor, bookmaker, who was quarantining here in San Diego as a respite from her home in Arizona. She came up with the solution, “Let me take the book home with me when I go back to Tucson, and I’ll take it to Mark Andersson.” She went on to explain, “He is a person who restores books and has had some national projects.”
Krista hand carried the book from San Diego to Arizona and a few days later, handed the book to Mark, owner of Panther Peak Bindery: Hand bookbinding and conservation.”
Mark and I exchanged e-mails and together determined an economical way to preserve the small volume so that it would not deteriorate any further. “It will be a few months,” he said.
“I’m in no hurry,” I answered back in October.
On December 24, 2020, a small box landed on my door. “What did you order now?” I asked Chuck, my live-in friend.
“Nothing, and this is addressed to you.”
Thinking it might be a belated Hanukkah present, or even a Christmas gift, which is always welcome by the way, I unpacked the bubble cushion, and at the bottom, wrapped carefully in brown paper, was my mother’s book. It was accompanied by a letter from Mark describing what he did to preserve it, and ending with a phrase that reinforced my decision to conserve this small book for posterity:
“Thanks for letting me work on it, it’s a pretty special book.”
I immediately communicated with Mark how grateful I was to receive such a gift in this season. The book has a new, though somewhat sheltered life, for a long time to come. For me it bodes well for a new and different lifestyle in the year(s) to come. Caressing my old/new book and as 2021 dawns, I return to a Sephardic tradition expressed at the time of the Jewish New Year:
“May this year and all of its curses come to an end. May this year with all of its blessings now begin.”
As you can see, 2021 is starting off pretty well for me and I wish the same to all of you reading this post—may you all have blessings, good fortune, good health in the new year and the years to come.