|Rabbi Howard Gorin sits next to a shipment of books bound for Nigeria.|
In 2004, after a visit to emerging Jewish communities in Nigeria, Rabbi Howard Gorin realized that in order to learn more about normative Judaism, these African Jews needed books.
“Books are an important aspect of who we are as a people,” he said. “To learn Judaism by word of mouth just doesn’t do it.”
Since then, the rabbi, the former religious leader of Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland, has collected and donated thousands of books to communities in need.
“I don’t do book-collecting full-time, but it’s one of the main things I’m doing,” Gorin said.
Maintaining the storage shelves he rents from the synagogue, Gorin continues to collect, sort, and donate books not only to overseas communities but to prison chaplains in the United States who cannot afford to buy books for their Jewish charges.
This year, Gorin undertook a new venture. Learning that synagogues in New York had lost entire libraries to Hurricane Sandy, the rabbi added these shuls to his list of book recipients.
During his most recent visit to this area, Gorin collected boxes of books from Teaneck, Bergenfield, Englewood, and Fair Lawn. Some of those books already have been sent to Brooklyn and Long Island synagogues.
Gorin noted that not all of the books he collects will find their way to a synagogue library. Still, he stressed, those books not donated will be sold at his synagogue’s annual book sale and the proceeds will be donated to Sandy-devastated shuls.
“This is not a business,” Gorin said. “It is a service with a mission: putting Jewish books into the hands of readers. That is what keeps me going.”
Recently, Gorin’s job got a little easier. In the past, the rabbi traveled throughout the country collecting Jewish books offered by individuals, libraries, and bookstores going out of business. Now, Shulamis Hes of Teaneck, who heard about Gorin’s project through TeaneckShuls, has offered to be his local liaison, coordinating local book donations.
“She just stepped forward to do this,” Gorin said, adding that he hopes this will set the model for other communities.
Hes said that when she saw Gorin’s posting and spoke with a neighbor who planned to leave some books out on her front steps, “I knew there was a more efficient way – a way to make it more organized.” As a librarian, she said, “I just like organizing.”
Emailing Gorin to suggest a better way to collect the books, Hes proposed finding drop-off points for donations.
“I assumed he was from New York and that he would come here every so often to pick them up,” she said. But when she learned that he lived in Maryland – “I knew from his accent that he was not a New Yorker” – she thought, “Why should he have to shlep when we could arrange a week or two with designated [collection] places?”
As a result of Hes’s efforts, book collections will take place from June 2 through June 16 at Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron and Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.
Hes also has increased the scope of her outreach, making contacts in New Hempstead that ultimately may yield a Rockland book connection. In addition, she has used Facebook to publicize the project in Washington Heights and has ideas about expanding her efforts to include Highland Park and Elizabeth.
“Once you have a coordinator, it’s really easy,” she said. “You put up flyers and get a location” where the books can be collected.
Aryeh Wiener of Teaneck, who donated about 50 books to Gorin during the rabbi’s last visit, joked that he sells books on Amazon.com, and “I really admire Rabbi Gorin’s efforts.
“He’s a philanthropist. I’m just a mercenary.”
“Books are funny,” he added. “One day you’ll say, ‘I have to have this.’ The next week, you look at the same book and say, ‘I’m never going to read this.’ Since I also read a lot of Jewish [books], I often have a conflict. Keep or sell?”
The book donor said that while she would have given away the books in any case, “For Sandy, I’m really going to give as much as I can to help these shuls get what they need. It’s a perfect way to thin my library.”
Rabbi Chaim Brikman, religious leader of Knesses Israel and Chabad of Sea Gate in Brooklyn, said he was told about Rabbi Gorin’s efforts by a friend.
“I got in contact with him and he sent a box, then a second and a third, and then he came himself with a van load.”
Noting that ultimately he received 25 boxes of books, Brikman said, “It was a breath of fresh air.
“Our whole lower level, my study, all our books, were totally gone, more than 10,000 seforim. He gave us a nice boost.
“It was like sunlight when you’re in a dark place.”
Brikman said that of all the gifts the shul received, “this is really something that gives us energy. It’s from the grassroots.
“So many people can’t afford to give money, but they can afford [to give] something they have that they’re not using.”
To learn more about local book collections, email Hes at email@example.com.
For more information about Gorin’s work, call (301) 518-5340 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.