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Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

Book review: The Bibliomaniacs, superb but dangerous

How I escaped by the skin of my teeth

Normally, I lash out at authors I know personally for the chutzpa of not showing me their books for constructive criticism before publishing. Mr. Halper, as I always call him, my favorite Tel Aviv second-hand-book dealer (87 Allenby), now has suddenly written a book. I would have taken revenge in this review, but there was no need because it is as good as perfect.

The book is The Bibliomaniacs by J.C. Halper. I read it from cover to cover in no time. I think that it was Bertrand Russell who said that if you want to write well, you need to read a lot. I guess that the slow hours in the store have been paying off. Its English is superb. I don’t recall ever having read anything in English that was so well-put, and I have an excellent memory. This text is not edited—it is perfected. And its humor is just what the doctor ordered.

Throughout the book, I wondered what was factual and what fictional. Only when I finished it did I realize that the book’s title had misled me, implying, as it does, that the book is about crazies from Mr. Halper’s bookstore. But the subtitle should have alerted me to a truer truth: Tales from a Tel Aviv Bookseller… These are not biographies. These people are mere supporting actors in his autobiography.

Initially, I overlooked a disclaimer on page 8, too. “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” Paradoxically, the very need to write this disclaimer proves that all his characters are true to life. Disney doesn’t have such disclaimers about Donald Duck. Apparently, Mr. Halper hates to be sued for defamation.

I can further prove how real these stories are. What Mr. Halper writes about himself is absolutely faithful to the Mr. Halper I know. And, he doesn’t mention his wife or kids. He is very careful not to tell us anything about them. I mean, if it’s all fiction anyway, he could have portrayed them any way he wanted. We also read nothing about the busy store, with its broad scope of books in well-sorted sections and reasonable prices. And there is also the fact that I just don’t read fiction.

All this adds up to the suspicion that the only fiction in The Bibliomaniacs is the disclaimer.

After he had shown me photos of his protagonists, I put the direct question to Mr. Halper: “What part of the book is real?” “I made up some part of some people’s characters.” Well, would you believe him?

As for me, I escaped by the skin of my teeth. Mr. Halper is a lovely man. He listens, has patience, and is friendly. But somehow, my intuition always told me to not tell him too much about myself. Now I could just see myself ending up in a chapter named Natan Nachshon, the Legendary Blogger.

In fact, my signed copy has a handwritten warning above the signature: “For the legendary, one of a kind, Moshe Mordechai, a book person and possible bibliomaniac!” A threat that may border on the criminal; you just sense his regret at not having included me already. Another juicy aspect of the warning lies in its final words, in perfect Hebrew lettering: “A grosche mentsch!” Yiddish for a great person, but also a not so oblique reference to my 6″5′, which somehow always fascinates the relatively dwarfed non-Dutch.

A sequel is inevitable. But given that it has to live up to the quality of the original, it will be another decade before volume two can hit the market. Ten years to watch my mouth to avoid being caricatured by this mild-mannered man’s sharp-penned alter ego, transforming me into yet another former customer.

The next printing of this first-born book needs to include a glossary of jargon. There’s not much Israeli slang in it but just enough to warrant one page of brief translations. With that proviso, I would recommend that the Jewish Agency buy up a whole printing and give a copy to any English speaker considering making aliyah. It will tell them where to get their books and give them frank portraits of life in Israel, with all its absurdities, impossibilities, and humor. This may seriously reduce a newcomer’s shock. Finally, and importantly, it will help non-Israeli readers figure out if they are really ready to face the trials that living here will give them.

My one complaint is that I found the book a bit too expensive. But that’s possibly because it’s new, and I’m used to Mr. Halper’s second-hand prices. (See my analyses of how Amazon plays with prices to hurt proper bookstores.) You’ll never find Halper’s book second-hand, though—no one will part with it. It’ll be handed down over the generations as long as climate change hasn’t killed us all.

This review is a work of fiction. The authors, books, and bookstores mentioned are the products of the reviewer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual quotes, booksellers, living or dead, or actual books is purely coincidental.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his over 1600 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble.
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