I have always loved to read. As a child I remember staying up with a flashlight under my blanket, unable to go to sleep before finishing whatever book I was reading. Yet, I never gave much thought as to what the books I read say about who I am. Today I am sitting on the floor of an apartment in Philadelphia surrounded by books. My mother’s books. My mother was a quiet, unassuming and private person who passed on to me her love of reading. Reading was her salvation. Books allowed her to escape a world which she found frightening and changing at a speed she could not understand. She entered into the minds of philosophers, Biblical commentators and essayists. She found solace in personal prayer, meditation and the calmness of those who wrote about faith in God. Amidst her books she was safe and cared for. I always knew the types of books she read, but now, as I face the dilemma of how to preserve what was most sacred to her, I am learning so much. Not only did she read, but she took copious notes, book marked and clipped passages that must have been meaningful to her, and saved articles about the books and the authors, all tucked into each volume. She was truly a student of these writers; the Bible came alive for her with each new commentary; her mind was challenged as she delved through Spinoza, Kant and Heschel. So many papers. So many books. So much knowledge that my mother thirsted for. Such a bittersweet task of removing them from her shelves.
And now, I have to find a new home for her library. I can’t just give away these books, as they represent the true essence of who my mother was. Yet it is not easy. How sad that no one seems to want books anymore. With each call I became more disillusioned and saddened by the realization that although owning books was so precious to her, giving them a new home is not such an easy task. And then I remembered. When my sister and I were young, my mother always took us to book stores. Once such used bookstore in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia was The Book Trader. Small nooks and eclectic shelves overflowing with every type of literature one could imagine. I loved it there. My mother was surely one of their best customers. Could, after all these years, the store still exist? Would they remember her? “Elaine” says Peter, the owner, “I can’t believe she is gone.” They will take her books. Each and every one of the more than 1000 volumes. Now someone can study Schorsch, Plaut and Lord Sacks from the very books she paged through each and every Shabbat. Torah and Prayer will come alive in new hands. There will be comfort for a stranger as they learn to meditate and look for faith in God. My mother is smiling. The shelves are empty, but her precious books are safe. Years from now another daughter can learn new insights about her mother, as she too will lovingly pass on her books.