Three local Chabad centers endeavor to prove that Jews truly are the people of the book.
Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University, Chabad of Greenfield and Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville all have received grants for 225 books to create local lending libraries.
The grants were awarded through worldwide raffles as part of an initiative in honor of the 120th birthday of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. The grants included funds for 80,100 books, the establishment of 360 Chabad community libraries, Torahs to communities without one and other initiatives.
Chabad of Greenfield Rabbi Yitzchak Goldwasser said that the library he is creating will be for people of all ages.
The idea, he explained, is to reach as many Jews in as many ways possible. While for some communities that is accomplished through a Shabbat dinner or Pesach seder, the Greenfield community could benefit most from a lending library, he said.
“Library books for a child or adult that can be taken and read in someone’s own time and comfort level was a need I didn’t think was being reached until now,” Goldwasser said.
The rabbi knows of what he speaks when discussing the benefits of a Jewish library. His father and uncle partnered with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s to create a Jewish section in the public library.
“They had that for about 30 years,” he said. “In the Carnegie Library, an entire couple of rows were Jewish books.”
Word has started to spread about the new lending library, and Goldwasser said that people are getting excited.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing like having a book, whether it’s over the weekend or on Shabbos to just be able to read,” he said.
And while cloud libraries and opportunities to learn virtually are modern conveniences, Goldwasser said there’s a reason physical items like vinyl records are popular again.
“I think, as much as we’ve moved on to virtual, books are still coming out,” he said. “People are still buying them.”
Rabbi Mendy Schapiro is also convinced that many people, including families, desire books.
“This is definitely a big deal,” the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville rabbi noted. “We’re very excited about it.”
Because the Chabad centers have only recently learned that they would be receiving the grants for the libraries, word has just started to leak out to the regulars who attend shul weekly or classes at the center, Schapiro said.
“Those people are intrigued by a lot of the titles that might interest them,” he said. “They’ve seen me starting to display them already — some people have borrowed them already.”
That, despite the fact that the library hasn’t officially opened.
It isn’t only families and older adults who will benefit from the libraries. In Oakland, Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University is also launching one.
On a college campus, Rabbi Shlomo Silverman said, it’s crucial to have a large variety of books covering a wide range of subjects for students.
“It’s definitely going to help expand the educational part of our educational system,” Silverman said, noting that while he already has a large library, opening a lending library is something new for the center and required additional titles.
“Once I go down this path, I think about the titles, like ‘Oh, I need to get Lord Jonathan Sacks — he just put out a book and that will be amazing to have on campus.’ I’m going to be adding that.”
Silverman, like Goldwasser and Schapiro, said the initial grant and titles are just the beginning. They will continue to expand the libraries they are building intending to have books covering a broad range of Jewish subjects and ideas.
All three rabbis are hard at work building shelves and working out the logistics of how to operate the libraries. Silverman doesn’t anticipate beginning to lend books until next semester. Greenfield and Monroeville will both open their doors to borrowers sooner, but still have details to puzzle out, like dedications and sponsorships, that will help the libraries grow.
“Even people looking to partner on a smaller scale would be great,” Goldwasser said. “A book can cost $18 or $20, a nice set of books can be $100, so it all counts. Every book is a book that someone will take home and read and grow from it.”
As luck — or divine intervention — would have it, several of the different Chabad centers are teaching a new course, “Book Smart.”
Schapiro sees a connection.
“There’s a vast knowledge available with books and libraries in Jewish teaching going all the way back from Mount Sinai until now,” he said. “Books and education have always been of value to Jews.”
Chabad of South Hills also received a separate grant, allowing it to hire Rabbi Levi and Hindy Rosenblum to direct all children, teen/youth and family programs. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.