Aliyah diary: A ‘library of peace’
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Aliyah diary: A ‘library of peace’

For many Americans when I was growing up, Wednesday was Prince Spaghetti Day. For me, Wednesday was Library Day, when my mother would put me in the stroller and take me to the Bookmobile parked at our local public school.

Those Wednesdays kicked off my lifetime love affair with books and libraries.


A view of the Bnai Zion Library. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

That’s why, when we made aliyah in August, one of the difficult things for me to leave was the Bergen County Cooperative Library System and the Teaneck and Bogota libraries in particular.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find that our adopted city of Ma’aleh Adumim has a large, modern library that serves the entire region.

It’s not BCCLS, but it does boast a nice selection of donated English-language titles. As I have reported previously, a good number of them were originally Teaneck Public Library books, donated by the sister of a local resident who gets them at annual sales. That makes the experience all the more homey for me.

However, I only recently found out the story behind our Bnai Zion Library of Peace. Margie Price, a Jewish Standard reader from Guttenberg, wrote to tell me about the Bnai Zion Foundation and its support of my new hometown. Price is the director of the organization’s Greater New York Region.

I’m ashamed to say I was previously unaware of Bnai Zion and the incredible work this national membership organization has done over the past 100 years. It has completed scores of humanitarian projects in Israel and America and continues its involvement with others.

Among the recipients of its generosity over the years:

• The Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem (19’8);

• American Red Magen David for Israel (1941);

• Ein Hod, an artists village near Haifa (1949);

• Two residences for the mentally challenged (1958);

• The America-Israel Friendship League (1971);

• Beit Halochem rehabilitation facility in Haifa (1978);

• Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa (1988);

• Ma’aleh Adumim’s Peace Library (1997);

• Bnai Zion Ahava Village for Children & Youth in Kiryat Bialik (’00’);

• David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem (‘003).

Why was Ma’aleh Adumim, a Jerusalem bedroom community the size of Teaneck, included in this impressive roster?

It’s all thanks to our longtime, likable mayor, Benny Kashriel, who took Bnai Zion Executive Vice President Mel Parness on a tour of the much smaller Ma’aleh Adumim in the early 1990s.

"The mayor told us they needed a real library," related Parness, a Cliffside Park resident still active in Bnai Zion after 4′ years on staff. "They had a storefront library and there was virtually nothing for the kids. He told us how the city was growing and we were very impressed with him and the city and decided we could help."

That "help" did not end with the library. Bnai Zion has funded several park and school projects and now plans to add air conditioning to our 64 school buildings, open three new preschools, provide new security vehicles, and expand the Center for Special Needs Children.

Kashriel was the guest of honor at a November dinner in New York that enriched Bnai Zion’s Ma’aleh Adumim Foundation by $75,000. He was also at a fund-raiser Parness held in Cliffside Park.

I was curious to learn if Bnai Zion had anything to do with the large, half-finished edifice going up behind the library. Yes, Bnai Zion’s Price said, that building was planned as a music conservatory. Unfortunately, the original donor backed out of the project and it awaits a new one.

"When I visited Ma’aleh Adumim last January," Price told me, "the two things that stood out to me were the need for more educational facilities, because so much of the population is below the age of 18, and the need for more security. One security vehicle costs $’5,000 and we could raise that in one evening at a parlor meeting."

Price is actively seeking North Jersey residents to host such meetings, which can be designated for the benefit of any Bnai Zion project.

"All you have to do is invite friends and neighbors on a Sunday afternoon or a weekday evening," she said. "I provide the invitations and I bring along a video to show at the meeting."

Bnai Zion is planning a mission to Israel this summer to mark its centennial. For more information about the trip or about hosting a parlor meeting, call Price at ‘1’-7’5-1’11 or e-mail margie.price@bnaizion.org

I hope to greet Margie, Mel, and the other mission participants when they visit the Peace Library here. I just have to make sure they don’t schedule that stop on a Wednesday; much to my disappointment, our library is closed on Prince Spaghetti Day.

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