Religious Life

Bus Stop Books – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – February 1, 2019

Shalom Chaverim,

A new train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv has been much in the news. When complete, it will make the journey in just 30 minutes. While it is an engineering marvel – it literally cuts through the hills of Yehuda- it has been plagued by delays.

Less well-known to non-natives is the old train line in Jerusalem. The tracks that once made their way through Baka and the German Colony have been turned into a pedestrian path for walkers, runners and bikers. Along the way are art installations and signs with poetry and the history of the area.

Walking the path on my last trip, I came across an installation by students of the art school, Betzalel. They had taken an old bus stop and converted it into a lending library. This being Jerusalem, there was an eclectic variety of books: chumashim and religious books, classic Israeli novels, school text books and cheap romance novels. Picture a Little Free Library on steroids which makes sense- Israel boasts the highest per capita book purchasing and second highest per capita book publishing of any country.

My chance upon the book bus stop couldn’t have been timelier. Shortly thereafter, I learned later that Amos Oz, Israel’s most prolific author, had died. Oz authored 40 books, including novels, short story collections, children’s books, and essays. His work has been published in 45 languages, more than that of any other Israeli writer.

Oz grew up in a family of book lovers. His home was lined with bookshelves much like the office of his father who worked as a librarian for the National Library. As a child, Oz dreamed of being a book as he wrote in his celebrated autobiography, A Tale of Love and Darkness: “When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somewhere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.”

For thousands of years, Jews have been forced to move around — fleeing bigotry, slavery, pogroms, famines and tyrants. We had no land. We had no magnificent art or architecture. But we had words. We had books. Words are portable. And so as with the Holy Ark- itself a book chest- we travelled with our books, our treasured possessions.

Amos Oz wrote, “The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.” Though he has passed away, his books remain. And they will continue to shape the soul of our nation… as long as we continue on as The People of the Book.

Rabbi Alexander Davis