Treasure Beyond Measure

(Top) Library empty; (Bottom) Library in progress

When I retired from the pulpit of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, David Ward packed all of my books.  Most of them have remained in boxes in our basement since then.

To tell the truth, I did not really miss them.

The ones I use all the time are in my home study, and almost everything else I wanted to know I could find on line. That is still the case.

Nevertheless I felt ill at ease. My older son Leo contributed to that feeling when he pointedly remarked, “Those books in your basement are treasures, and they will eventually rot in those boxes.”

In Germany this past fall, our host, Pastor Ursula Sieg, challenged me to rescue one book a day from the basement dungeon where I had imprisoned them. I did not know how to do that as my study upstairs already overflows its bookshelves.

When we returned from Germany, the challenge from Leo and Ursula finally impelled me to action. Since our younger son Ben moved out from the finished portion of our basement several years ago, we really have not used the space very often.

So I asked Vickie if we could hire our wonderful handyman/carpenter, Glen Tracy, and ask him to line the wall with bookshelves. She agreed, and Glen and his helper installed the shelves in one long day. “Now,” he said when he finished, “comes your job, to unpack and shelve all those books.”

An arduous task but infinitely rewarding

I have begun to do so. I have been at it a week. Leo and his family were here for several days, and he was an immense help. Still carrying the books from the storage area of the basement to the finished area, organizing and then shelving them has been far more tiring than I ever imagined. It has also been very rewarding.

I still have a long way to go, but the library is definitely beginning to take shape.

I am amazed at the number of books I own. I am also amazed at how many I had forgotten and am rediscovering anew. Among them are some inscribed with touching words from the authors. Inscribed books have their own special section.

I am organizing the rest into Biblical Studies, Talmud, Midrash, Commentaries, Jewish History, Contemporary Jewish Thought, Study and Research Aids, Pastoral Counseling, Christian Thought, Islam and Other Religions, Classical literature, Humor, Hebrew Literature, Prayerbooks and Life Cycle, Children, Adolescent, Anti-Semitism, Novels, Paperbacks, Israel, Biographies, Sports, and Miscellaneous.

The hard truth is that I probably will not read or study many of these books again, and with so much on line, there was no place to which I could have donated them. Clearly, the practical thing to do would have been to get rid of most of them. But I just could not bring myself to do it.

They are the story of my life, and it has been an amazing experience to handle them anew!

I think back on the hours I pored over many of them. I think of the places I read them and the people I associate with them. So many memories come flooding back with each book that I rescue from the boxes and restore to a dignified home.

And while, it is true, there are many I probably will not read or even handle again, one thing is sure. The fact that they are now accessible means that I will certainly study and read some, and  will learn new things.

In addition, with each book I shelve I silently pray: May it be Your will, Eternal One, that one day my children and grandchildren will peruse the collection and find something of enduring value calling to them from the once empty walls.