Reading a recent JERUSALEM POST article about Rabbi Berel Wein who settled in the Rehavia district of Jerusalem in 1996 and serves as a rabbi there aroused interest in someone I have never known but whose life experiences run a similar course to mine.
We are both the same age. And he, a well-known author and scholar, attributes his literary love to his childhood, bereft of all sports.
Likewise, sports never entered my life. When children of my age would play in the streets tossing and chasing after a ball, yelling and shrieking when one group succeeded in retrieving it, I made my way to the local public library.
At first visit I would spend hours walking up and down amid the heavy shelves lined with heavy volumes, the names of whose authors I had not known.
One day, a librarian who saw me on several visits, asked if she could be of help to me in finding a book on a subject of interest to me.
My first two choices were a slim volume on the life of Theodor Herzl, father of political Zionism, and the second, a biography of the life of Abraham Lincoln, America’s great 16th president.
It was 1943 and I was then ten years old. The librarian was puzzled by my choices and asked me why those two men’s lives were of interest to me.
While I knew of Abraham Lincoln only by name and by his reputation, at the age of ten I was already a committed Zionist. My parents were members of a General Zionist group and my mother, for many years of her life, had been an ardent worker for Hadassah. Thus, the name and life of Theodor Herzl was familiar to me.
If I recall correctly, it took me about ten days to finish reading about Herzl’s life but much longer to read about Lincoln.
Gradually, I read more novels and history about Lincoln’s early years and his tragic assassination at Ford’s theatre in Washington. It resulted in my becoming a life-long lover of Lincoln who was also a devoted friend of the Jews.
One of my favorite books among the 4,000 other books in my personal library, is a very large 272 page volume published in 2015, entitled LINCOLN AND THE JEWS: A HISTORY, by its authors Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell.
Full of photos and documents, its pages tell the history of the life of one of the greatest Americans who rose up from abject poverty, self-taught, to become his country’s greatest and most beloved presidents.
(At least for northerners. I dare not relate the feelings of southerners who lost the Civil War, the war between the states, the war for southern independence, the war under Lincoln’s terms in office.)
When Lincoln learned that a southern Jewish officer who was in a northern prison and heard of his father’s death, he appealed to president Lincoln to be allowed to return to his home to observe the shiva period of Jewish mourning, Lincoln issued an order of pardon for the grieving officer.
He stated that “the children of Israel” honor their parents in life as in death and he ordered that the Jewish officer be freed from prison and allowed to return home to comfort his newly-widowed mother.
When Lincoln once heard of General Ulysses Grant’s order to restrict all Jews from certain military areas, mainly Jews who were engaged in selling merchandise in those areas, he immediately cancelled that order and permitted Jews to live and to work freely.
Upon the death of Lincoln in 1865, northern Jewish synagogues held special memorial services for a beloved man. Several prominent rabbis suggested that the kaddish prayer be recited on the day of Lincoln’s funeral.
I was “hooked” on biographies of famous men and women and was tearfully upset when I read of the tragedies in the brief life of Theodor Herzl, of whom I have written in much detail.
My love-affair with books began at age ten. At age eighty-seven I simply dust off the covers of the 4000 books lining my shelves from floor to ceiling. I don’t know if it’s lack of strength or diminished interest.
My children will not want most of the books. Neither will my grandchildren. They are selective in their reading habits.
But like Berel Wein, I ran from all sports into the world of the printed word. It became my life’s partner in sharing my written thoughts, opinions and feelings. Thousands of them.
But no regrets !