If you took a moment and stepped inside, you were quickly overcome by the smell of dust, of pages, of history, of life itself
Photos: Nachman Hellman
Deep in Meah Shearim, where the stores seemed to pile up, one after another, there is a small opening that you would have missed if you were walking quickly.
But if you took a moment and stepped inside, you were quickly overcome by the smell of dust, of pages, of history, of life itself.
The proprietor fascinated me, an elderly Yerushalmi Jew with large, clear eyes, a bit of a fierce demeanor, and a strong sense of purpose. Kan zeh lo modi’in, read an unapologetic sign behind him, this isn’t an information booth: we’re not here to guide you through Meah Shearim.
We sell seforim. We sell tashmishei kedushah. We treasure them, and offer them to people who will do the same.
It was a place where talmidei chachamim from Eretz Yisroel and abroad came to find rare seforim and booklets, the volumes and pages that stuffed the ancient, sagging, colorless bookshelves. An old bakery box had been repurposed, used as a storage bin for the old red tefillin boxes you don’t really see anymore and strings from old talleisim hung through the cracks in the broken bookcase glass.
The power in the store came from the Yid behind the counter, from his quiet, sure pride in what he did, and his disinterest in his store being anything other than what it was.
He let me hang around and take pictures as long as I didn’t disturb him, and this picture spoke to me. I felt it captured the intensity and authenticity of the man and his store, sitting the same way, with the same expression, for decades: if everything changed outside, inside it was the same.
I liked the image so much that I hung it up in my home. One evening, the doorbell rang and it was a Yid from Yerushalayim, there on behalf of a mossad. I invited him in, and he sat down- but he couldn’t speak.
He tried, but he wasn’t able to. It was like he was somewhere else.
He was staring at that picture, transfixed.
Finally, he managed to say a few words. “Doss….doss iz mein Tatte,” he said. That’s my father.
In his eyes, I saw the stones of Jerusalem and the blue sky between the huddled together buildings of Meah Shearim and the way a father and son have a connection that transcends time and space.
Doss iz mein Tatte.
(Originally featured in A Gift Passed Along, Pesach 5780)
Oops! We could not locate your form.