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Bookshop Story

Bookshop committee members ... (standing) Jackie Klein, Anita Bashary and Rachel Max; (seated) Hilda Ben Nun, Rene Gold, Ilana Harf, and Marsha Goldstein; Absent: Helen Brandwein. Photos by Cynthia Barmor

When my co-chair, Jackie Klein, and I first envisioned a second hand bookshop in 2009 as a way of developing ESRA activities in Modiin, we had no idea that we would have a lion by the tail. That idiom, in a nutshell, describes the huge popularity of our bookshop, aptly named ESRABOOKS.

Location, location, location being the key, we accepted our local Azrielli Mall's suggestion of a storage room (machsan) on the mall's first parking level. The machsan, replete with unsightly sewage pipes along the lengths of the ceiling, no windows, air circulation or, heaven forbid, washroom facilities, was nonetheless at the end of a parking row where some fresh air wafted in, and it was along one of the exit routes from the mall. So passing traffic there was aplenty, along with the downside of car horns and fumes.

After months of preparation, we opened at 10am on October 1, 2010 (curious coincidence of numerals). Outfitted in ESRA's colors of orange and grey, shelves filled with donated English and Hebrew books collected from all over the country, that first day marked a milestone in the community. Since then we have lost count of the hundreds of thousands of shekels that have been raised both for Neve ESRA, our afternoon care center for kids at risk in Modiin, and countless other ESRA projects from north to south. At the same time, ESRABOOKS in Modiin has become a household name in the city among English and increasing numbers of Hebrew speakers.

All however, has not been hunky-dory….the very first winter rains in late 2010 proved that our shop was far from insulated, and we were heartbroken to see the huge loss of books damaged by water dripping in from the ceiling, sometimes so strong that buckets served as catchment containers. Several winters later (by then we were hardened veterans), and many "finger-in-the-dike" repairs by the mall (they have to be seen to be believed), we felt tentative hope that we finally had things under control - more or less. Plastic sheeting remained in the shop, just in case. 

October 2013: The flood which destroyed books and warped shelving

And then came Motzei Shabbat, October 2013. A passer-by was standing outside our closed shop and called me with horrifying news (what foresight to place my cell number on the door for emergencies). Water was pouring out from under the shop door and must have been doing so for some time as the entire parking lot in the vicinity was flooded. I rushed down and found, to my absolute shock, one of the large pipes gushing smelly sewage water that was spurting in every direction – on books, shelves and boxes. I stood motionless, transfixed by the awful sight, my mind suddenly eradicated of thought at the sheer misery I was experiencing.

Then survival clicked in, and after several panic calls, bookshop committee members arrived to give a helping hand, along with mall maintenance, who desperately tried to plug the flowing pipe. We lost a lot of books that night, much shelving was permanently warped - not to mention the fear of bacteria. After fumigation, reorganization and temporary closure, we reopened much shaken with the entire episode that subsequently became known as "the Flood".

Nine months later, following a settlement from ESRA's insurance company and some contributions, we refitted the shop with new shelving and cupboards, and also instituted innovative changes to promote smoother operations. This involved complex logistics, and extra volunteers were recruited from the community to lend a hand to move all our stock to a temporary storage room nearby which the mall kindly provided, and then to repack everything when the carpentry work was completed a week later.

Flood shenanigans notwithstanding, our bookshop is more than just a meeting place for locals, an anchor to reach out to the community, a source of welcome funds for our projects or an activity that brings so much joy to our outstanding and dedicated cadre (all ESRA members) of 45 volunteers. We can count to our credit one love match, as expressed by the lady of the house: "Who would have thought ... that love could bloom in the bookshop? It was just because of two widows volunteering that something wonderful came about for us. We had never even worked together, but rather a third lovely lady who had worked with both of us, thought this might be a good combination and introduced us. Now the shop has an even more special feeling for me each time I am there. Thank you, ESRA!"

Many other stories abound. As related by Rachel Max: "A man about my age wandered around the shop not finding anything of interest. He wanted something about war. Maybe to keep his mind off the real one in our land. Then I noticed "Wild Swans", a book on China written by a woman who went through all of the horrors of Mao, which I had read. That he took."

Then there are the kids, as Dorothy Friedman reported: "Sometimes, the kids think they can buy as many books as they want, but are told that they have to decide which books are most important to them. Some children seem to understand and take time to decide. Others, however, try the "please, Mommy, why can't I take them all?" approach. Sometimes, when there are not too many customers waiting to pay, we ask the children to help us add up the prices. It's great to see the satisfied looks on their faces when they are able to come up with (or close to) the right amount!"

Bookshop committee member Marsha Goldstein was delighted to find a perfect Hebrew edition of JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Her dyslexic grandson had expressed a wish that maybe, just maybe, he might be willing to try to read the book if she could find him a copy. Which she did – at ESRABOOKS!

They say that money does not grow on trees ... this was one time that it "kind-of" did. One day an elderly lady came in to donate books. As the only means of thanking her, I asked her to sign in for our monthly raffle to win a free book. Another customer saw me pricing the books and chose one of them. As the book lay sideways on the counter, I noticed a slight lump within the pages, opened it, and found NIS1600 in cash! Wishing to locate our benefactor, who had by then left the shop, I referred to our raffle pages and phoned her immediately. Her gratitude was expressed by her handing me NIS100 as a donation for Neve ESRA.

ESRA volunteers are the heart and soul of the bookshop. Without any doubt it is due to their efforts, enthusiasm and energy that the shop is such a terrific success. Our bookshop committee of nine ladies is an exemplary model for well-oiled teamwork. Each person fulfills a task and is always ready to fill in for another during absences. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to all our wonderful volunteers, and general and bookshop committee members for their superb cooperation and passion in ensuring the continued growth and consolidation of ESRABOOKS in Modiin. May it continue to bring pleasure and joy to our community for many years to come.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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