Lily Iskhakova

The little library that could


Tucked away in a pastoral south Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka, perched on the upper floor of the community (Matnas) center is a very special library. Few people know that the English collection — called the Jelly library — of this cozy two-story complex was created more than 30 years ago through a collaboration between the municipal library and a group of volunteers. Together, the two libraries have since served the Anglo community with an extensive book collection for native and non-native English speakers, story time for the littlest of visitors, and support for school English teachers, among other programs. When my kids were little I loved walking with them to the library to pick something new to read during Shabbat or on quiet afternoons. It’d be Meir Shalev for me, Harry Potter and Wimpy Kid for my kids. They’ve grown up since then, and their tastes in literature have also evolved, but the library still has something for each of us.

This year, the library established a new program: a Women’s Wellness Initiative. My involvement in this amazing project was a result of many conversations with the dedicated library staff. I’ve lived in Jerusalem for almost a decade and have seen many women quietly struggle as they and their families settle into their new homes. I also know from my own experiences that the task of supporting everyone in the family can be challenging in any circumstance, but being an olah can make it that much more difficult. And what if fate interferes by adding a health or medical problem, or abuse by an intimate partner, or a burden of caring for a severely ill family member? In a place with language barriers and so much still unfamiliar, these dilemmas can be even further isolating. Through the years I’ve amassed books, connections, resources, and wisdom that I’ve shared with anyone who has told me about their private hardships. But how many women cross my path? And I really want to do more, to reach out and help. There’s clearly a need out there.

So I chose a place and a medium that have been important sources of information and solace for me throughout my life — libraries and books — and together with the Jelly team created a library for women called the Women’s Wellness Initiative. How can a library help? This particular library can help by providing information on many topics that can be accessed privately and anonymously. It contains books by clinicians and experts with science-backed information that can help women understand their bodies and minds in health and disease. Books in this library are specially selected for the most accurate and up-to-date information. They cover topics like mental and physical health, hormones and menopause, addiction and abuse, and care for the elderly or terminally sick. The collection will grow with time, based on the needs of the people that use it. This library can also provide a list of English-speaking professionals, like family physicians, gynecologists, psychologists, etc. so that a woman in need could reach out for diagnosis and treatment. It is almost like a Yellow Pages book, but with recommendations and testimonials from the community.  This library can help by hosting evening mixers for women to mingle, connect, network, and share their wisdom with each other. Its accessibility and community-focus makes the library an ideal place for this resource. Its resources are free, and can be used anonymously.  This initiative is designed to grow and evolve, and, much like the library where it is housed, to serve its community.


The Women’s Wellness Initiative honors one of Jelly Library’s past beloved directors, Deborah Lionarons. Deborah and her husband built a home and raised their children right here in Jerusalem. Deborah dedicated more than 16 years to the Jelly Library, first as a volunteer and then as part of the staff. She was also a doula and a healer, devoted to supporting, helping, and restoring women’s health.  Unfortunately, we lost Deborah in 2019 to cancer. This dedication just makes this project that much more meaningful and special.

The Grand Opening event will take place on Wednesday, March 15th at 19:30. But the Women’s Wellness Initiative is already up and ready to welcome visitors at the Baka Matnas library, 3 Yisachar Street, Jerusalem. Look for it on the second floor, in the left corner.

About the Author
Dr. Lily Iskhakova is a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, a member of Bukharian Jewish community, and a women's rights advocate.
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