11 August 2008

Jerusalem: Saving the Russian Library

For many of its patrons, Jerusalem's Russian Library is a cultural and spiritual home. The largest public Russian-language library outside the FSU holds some 100,000 volumes and it is the largest depository of books translated from Hebrew to Russian.

The library's history, resources and relocation fight are detailed in this Jerusalem Post story.

Among its resources:

- The only archive of Russian newspapers published in Israel since 1990.

- Early 20th century collections brought by Russian Jews, including books now out of print and destroyed during the Revolution and Stalin.

- Books translated from Yiddish to Russian.

- Russian-language books published in Israel in literature, theater, art, music, mathematics, philosophy, history, Judaism and more.

- Famous mathematician Isaak Yaglom's personal collection.

- A section devoted to Yiddish theater director Solomon Mikhoels, murdered by the KGB, who performed Shakespeare for Stalin.

- A 5,000-item rare books collection.

- A self-help book collection.

- Collections of rare Soviet journals from Stalin's time.

- A section of anti-Semitic Soviet books from the 1970s, many written by Jews.

The library also offers many clubs and events. Israeli writers present translations of books, and Russian-language writers from abroad present new books. After school activities attract hundreds of children.

How did this institution develop? Established by library director Clara Elbert (who made aliyah in 1990) with 300 personal books, she also received donations from individuals and such institutions as Yad Vashem, the National Library and the Joint Distribution Committee. She fought to establish a library and literary center like the one she worked at in Moscow, a gathering place for artists and writers.

Because so many people bring in books today, the library sends duplicates to Tel Aviv's Russian government cultural center, and even to Russian libraries in the US and Russia. Some books brought to Israel no longer exist in the FSU, and Moscow's Lenin and foreign libraries have established loan programs with the library.

And it has just completed a fight for the proper relocation of its resources.

"This library is the symbol of 100 years of Russian-Jewish life," explains Dina Kazhdan of Shatil, the New Israel Fund's empowerment and training center for NGOs. Shatil worked with the Coalition for the Survival of the Russian Library, a group of cultural organizations and figures fighting for the library's proper relocation.

"Russian Jewry didn't bring out gold when it left Russia, it brought its libraries. Without them, there's no way for us to understand the core of Russian Jewry," she adds.

The battle started when its current location was supposed to be vacated by September 1 and, although the city had a year to plan the move, no appropriate location for the collections and its activities had been found.

According to Belotsky, the municipal Library Department had first planned to transfer the contents of the three-and-a-half-story Zuckerman building into a not-yet-renovated supermarket warehouse in the Shukanyon on Rehov Agrippas. In that scenario, the books would not have been on display and the building would have served as a storage facility. At one stage, the municipality was even asking the library's members to take home 20 books each, which would have effectively dispersed the collection.
Read the complete story, and a possibly hopeful resolution, at the link above.

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