70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

The Rausnitz lending library of Jerusalem

By Juli Kristóf - 2018-02-25

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

It is a commonplace notion that books are kept in libraries, but it may also happen that it is a library and perhaps also its patrons that are kept by a book.


This post card could be simple and straightforward. With opening times, locations, quotes from interviews, pictures, opinions. With facts. It would be easy and straightforward if this Jerusalem library were still there. Or if someone else still remembered it.


But this facility is free from all these restrictions. I often think I am the only one still safeguarding its memory - or at least a fragment of its memory – in the form of five books. I did not get them from the library - they were not even from Jerusalem. At the very beginning of my marriage, as a newly minted fresh Israeli, on a Friday, I went with my husband on a hike to the Beit Shemesh forests. On our way back we stopped at the small, picturesque hillside Givat Jesajahu kibbutz. Book Fair - the sign pointed to the small path at the gate, off the road. If there is a book fair, there is no stopping us - start the rummage. After a short walk, we arrived at some derelict buildings with tin roofs. They might have kept cows in them – but presently, at least that day, they were housing books in them.


As we entered, there was an incredible sight in front of our eyes - there were shelves lined up along the few-dozen-meter length of the building with thousands of volumes awaiting their fate. Apart from us, there were a few other people browsing through the rows, moving cautiously on the uneven ground - that is ... I elbowed Nadava, stunned, staring at the ground. He followed my gaze. The floor was covered with books – downtrodden, muddy, torn, wide open books. Or at least their corpses.

My husband kept stopping at one or the other shelf, but I slowly made my way towards the depths of the barn.  Finally I stopped at the shelf before the last one - and, as if led by a mysterious force, I reached for the first volume. Robert Sabatier, Bulvár. Novel. Europe Publisher, 1958. I pulled it out - and I did not have to open it at all to know: I would be taking it home. The book was covered with advertisements: “Friedmann Brothers. Fashion Novelties. Imported Goods” or “J. Grünwald: All kinds of leather accessories. Excellent quality. Solid prices.” But they also advertised a wig salon “Peot Elegant, Salon of Special Wigs, under the expert lead of Dvora Jabrov” and restaurants – with Jerusalem addresses under the names.  In Hungarian. All in Hungarian.


The cover of the book - as you have certainly figured it out - was provided by the Jerusalem library, which used its volumes as a mobile marketing column with advertising, probably in the middle of the 60s, and a cautious warning on the inside of the cover that warned neglectful borrowers not to lose books or else their full cost would have to be refunded regardless of the subscriber's deposit.


I bought five books that day at Givat Jesajahu - and I need not mention, I had no intention to read any of them. But whenever I get one in the hand, I think about it – I travel to another Jerusalem where I could buy insurance in the Ben Yehuda Street at Íritz & Duschinsky in Hungarian, while in Ben Hillel Street 8, Mr. Eisen would sell delicatessen and other meat products (strictly kosher!), and in Ben Hillel 9, the Kalish’s were repairing broken electric razors, mixers, irons, stoves and engines.


This was another Jerusalem, another Israel. Israel, to which many came, full of hope, beginning to learn Hebrew and to build a new life for themselves - but where it was possible to thrive even without such intentions. At most, they frequented the Miki Lady Friseur on the Aristobolus Street - who knew what the length or the color should be, in Hungarian. They were the ones who used to go to this forgotten lending library in Jerusalem at Rehov Yavetz 2; the ones burdened with  the task of building Israel - but at that historic moment in time, they had not yet fully arrived.


(At the location of the former Rausnitz lending library, there is now a used book store selling English books).

Fotó: Silló Sándor
Fotó: Silló Sándor
Fotó: Silló Sándor

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