Before Pesach, I shared with you several reasons why even valuable and cherished old books and seforim sometimes need to find a new home, as well as how a shul in Passaic, Congregation Tifereth Israel (“the Tif”), was beginning the process of collecting gently-used books and seforim to help them get a new life by finding a new home. I have since learned of an additional reason why sometimes less-than-new books need a new home, but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, allow me to share some of the things I’ve experienced along the way.
I thought that by now the collection stage of the process would be over and I could focus on organizing what had been donated for the sale – especially since the sale date (5/26/19) is almost a week away! Well, among the things that I’ve learned is that people are not only eager to make room on their bookshelves for more seforim, but they are very appreciative when the seforim that accompanied them, or their children or their parents, during their spiritual growth can do the same for others. Because of this, I have been continually contacted about the possibility of more books being donated for the sale. Such as the neighbor looking to downsize his library now that most of the kids have moved out, or the friends and acquaintances who are just getting around to taking stock of which books and seforim they likely won’t use anymore. But that can’t top what happened this past Sunday, when I drove my son’s high school carpool to Queens and made a stop nearby, where a widow and her daughter were hoping the seforim their husband and father had used and adored for so many years could continue to fill the same role for others.
Those who are members of the “Buy, Sell or Swap Sefarim” Facebook group, which is partnering with the Tif for this event, have seen the posts I’ve uploaded of some of the interesting, sometimes out of print, books that will be available at the sale. Among the posts from that Sunday were the Shas this yid learned from in his Forest Hills apartment, and the set of Chumashim he likely used to go over each week’s Parsha. But there was a second Shas that came from that apartment, one that was harder for the widow to part with.
When I spoke to the daughter, she told me that her mother did not want to give that second Shas away, but by the time I arrived she had changed her mind and wanted it to find a new home as well. The reason this Shas had caused her to be more emotionally torn was that it hadn’t belonged to her husband, but to her son. It was (and is) a large, beautiful Shas with not only the standard commentaries on the page and in the back, but also included the major Rishonim (Ramban, Rashba, Ritva). It was purchased by a relative for her son, but he didn’t get to use it for too long, as he was unfortunately killed in a car accident a few years after he received it. Such pain never fully goes away, but his mother decided that it would be a bigger benefit if his Shas was used and learned by someone than if it remained with her in the apartment.
My wife suggested putting a “L’iluy Nishmas” sticker inside the Shas, but it would be unfair to burden a new owner with such emotions. Besides, the benefit for the deceased would be the same with or without such stickers. The truth is, learning any previously-owned sefer will benefit the person who donated it, the person who wrote it, and those who helped publish it. Rabbi Cohen, the rav of the Tif, mentioned to me how the holiness of our seforim is maintained through their use, so finding new homes really does give these books a new life. As I left her apartment, the widow gave me a very emotional thank you, as what would become of the seforim in her apartment was weighing heavily on her and this weight had been lifted.
Not every positive that has already come out of this process has been nearly as heart-rending, even if it can be just as stirring. Such as the Facebook-group member who sold his bar mitzvah Shas through the group, thereby coming into contact with some who couldn’t afford to buy a new one, which, because of the upcoming sale, led to others donating their old Shas directly to those who couldn’t afford one. (So far two sets of Shas have changed hands because of the sale that hasn’t even occurred yet!) Which leads me to the other reason why new homes are sometimes needed for valuable books and seforim, a reason that also came to my attention and is becoming a reality through the sale.
When we buy something new, we expect it to be in perfect condition, unless we are buying products that have been refurbished. But what happens to new books that are returned? The words remain the same, even if the packaging becomes slightly worn during its trips to and from the customer. Does the person learning a sefer gain any less if the paper cover has a slight tear?
Still, these “NQP” (not quite perfect) books can’t be sold as new anymore, even if, to most, they are just as valuable. The same is true for other “scratch ‘n dent” volumes. Well, since the sale in Passaic will not only have the books donated to the Tif, but outside vendors as well, Koren Publishers will be at the sale, selling NQP volumes of the various editions of its famed Steinsaltz Talmud, as well as siddurim, machzorim and other items from their vast library, for 50 percent or more off the list price. It may not be the same as being transferred from one house of Torah study to another, but it does allow these books which cannot be sold in stores to find a good home.
Other vendors will include those trying to downsize their personal overgrown library, an antique Judaica seller who will have rare manuscripts and early editions on display (and for sale), Capitol Seforim (a used book dealer with locations in Lakewood and Monsey), and Geniza Books.As an added advantage, Geniza is offering a 20 percent discount off of anything from their online store, Amazon.com/shops/geniza. Just email [email protected] gmail.com and tell Aryeh which item(s) you want, and he will bring them to the sale; not only will you get the discount, but you will save on shipping too! Additional vendors are hoping to join us as well, but since it is Memorial Day weekend, need to work out the staffing.
Between the thousands of books and seforim that have been donated to the Tif, and those being brought by the outside vendors, this book sale, – which some are calling a book fair – is a must for all Jewish book lovers. And all proceeds from the event – every single dollar – goes to the shul. Normally I don’t mind when people ask me about working at WFAN or what the Shmoozer is really like, but when you come to the Tif in Passaic on Sunday May 26, I will likely be too busy trying to help old books find a new home to talk s-p-o-r-t-s.
By Rabbi Dov Kramer
Dov Kramer ([email protected]) is a member of the Tif (https://www.tifpassaic.org/), which is located at 180 Passaic Avenue (corner of Boulevard) in Passaic. The used book sale on Sunday, May 26, will be in the Tif ballroom from 10 a.m.- 7 p.m.