The library for Israel and the Jewish world

The Jewish bookshelf is relevant to the current issues with which we contend and to how we shape our future.

October 23, 2014 22:55
3 minute read.

Books. (photo credit: HANAN COHEN)

This week, 75 leaders and scholars met at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

This unique gathering represented an amalgam of wisdom, intellectual depth, historical knowledge and love for the written word. This was the first gathering of the Global Forum, established by the National Library as part of its renewal process now under way.

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The Jewish people’s bookshelf spans more than 3,000 years of creativity, thinking and discourse.

In it lies not just great wisdom but also a moral compass.

Israel’s National Library has been entrusted with this treasure and seeks to strengthen ties of the People of the Book with its books. Our goal is to make the library a vibrant meeting place of individuals and ideas alike. A place where the culture, society and spirit of Israel and the entire Jewish people in all its diversity can develop based on this rich heritage.

While the National Library has made great strides in developing and preserving its world-ranking collections, it has historically been used primarily as a research center for a small community of researchers and scholars.

The library’s renewal process will enable it to fulfill its mandate as an institution that belongs to the public both here and abroad.

The renewed library will expand to provide enhanced physical and virtual services as well as cultural and educational programming that foster engagement with its wide-ranging collections. The library is opening access and tailoring content to serve the multitude of communities in Israel and worldwide, determined to build a meeting place and cultural resource for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The library is creating a dynamic space for intellectual and creative encounters while continuing to prioritize its role as a center for research.

The People of the Book have not yet had a fitting repository to house the wealth of knowledge accumulated over three millennia.

That will change. In 2019, the new home of the National Library will open its doors to the world, adjoining the Knesset, the Shrine of the Book and the Israel Museum.

The building, of course, is only an edifice. Of importance is what we’ll be doing within its walls. We believe that the National Library is not just a key institution in the preservation of our national identity; it must play an important role in the continuity of Israeli and Jewish life and as a bridge between communities. The library will become a cultural hub for all segments of society, of every religion and nationality. With the adoption of cutting-edge technology, the library will become the world leader in digital content for all Hebrew, Israeli and Jewish topics.

The library is not a museum.

It is a living connection between the knowledge and wisdom of the past and the contemporary world.

The Jewish bookshelf is relevant to the current issues with which we contend and to how we shape our future.

Shortly after Israel was founded, David Ben-Gurion set aside 50,000 Israeli lirot for his initiative to create photographs of all Hebrew manuscripts throughout the world and bring them to Israel.

It was 1950, and our fledgling state was dealing with critical security and economic issues. Yet Ben-Gurion insisted on the project, saying that “the true test of history for the State of Israel will be a spiritual one.” The National Library and the renewal process it is undergoing is the realization of Ben-Gurion’s conviction.

As chairman of the National Library, I am convinced that the day will soon come where dignitaries arriving in Israel will be taken to Yad Vashem and shown what the world took from the Jewish people and from there be taken to the new National Library to see what the Jewish people has given to the world.

The writer is chairman of the National Library of Israel.

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