Kids leave home; ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ stays

A picture of the Encyclopedia Judaica just won’t do it. I want it there. It is a mooring that provides me with a sense of security and stability.

August 28, 2019 17:38
Kids leave home; ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ stays

A picture of the ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ just won’t do it. I want it there. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)

I have worked primarily out of a small, dusty, cramped, book-lined bomb shelter in my apartment for the last 23 years.
There are no windows, just two round, screenless, submarine-looking portholes that allow in some air. A fluorescent light flickers above. In the summer the room is extremely hot; in the winter it’s very cold.
When we moved into the apartment, we pasted a yellow fabric on the bottom half of the room’s walls in an effort to give the naturally dreary space a sunnier feel. But two decades of dust and grime have intervened and attached themselves to the fabric, creating dark, cloud-like streaks that give the room not a sunny feel, but rather an overcast one. We aimed for Miami and ended up with London.
Take out the desk, the computer, the books and all the photographs, and the room – with its uneven concrete walls – would make a great jail cell. Bolted chains would not look out of place on those pocked walls.
But I grew attached to that room where I have probably spent more time over the years than anywhere else in the world. To others, the room – my “study” – might have seemed a dreary, gloomy pit, but it was my dreary, gloomy pit. I knew it, was used to it, and felt very comfortable in it. Sure it was cluttered, but it was my clutter.
I romanticized from time to time about a wood-paneled study with a sunroof and a view of a garden where someday I would retire to write the great Ma’aleh Adumim novel. In truth, however, I was happy in this cave surrounded by all things familiar.
But now, sadly, I must leave.

NO, NOT across the ocean, not across the country, not even across the city. I’m traumatized because I have to move across the hall, into one of the rooms that for years served as the bedroom for my two younger boys.
With my daughter now married off – it happened just two days ago and the very writing of those words makes me go all aflutter – I need another space in the house to put a pull-out bed. That way when all the kids come home for Shabbat, with all their respective spouses, they will each have their own room. My study can’t accommodate a bed and a desk, the new room can. The short straw, of course, will draw the now cleared-out dungeon.

AND FOR about the last three months, that’s what I’ve been doing: clearing out the dungeon. The Wife had been dealing with much of the wedding logistics, The Lass had been looking for her wedding dress, and I have been crating piles of stuff out of my office, sifting through decades of accumulated paperwork, notes, books, mementos and assorted junk to figure out what goes, and what stays.
“Honey, how far back do I have to keep pay slips?” I shouted to The Wife.
“Throw ’em away,” she said.
“Honey, do we need to keep electric and credit card bills from 2003?”
“Throw ’em away,” she said.
“Honey, where should we now put the Encyclopedia Judaica?” I asked.
“Throw ’em away,” she said.
The payslips and electric bills I could dump, but not the encyclopedia, not the EJ, even though I know that I should.
In this day and age, when all human knowledge is readily available at the click of a mouse, who really needs to keep 16 volumes of an encyclopedia published in 1971? The “Israel” entry lists the country’s population at 2,998,000, which is only about six million off of what the population is today.
But I can’t get rid of this set. I can’t get rid of any of those 16 volumes with the floating “alefs” on the lovely gold-lettered, blue-green covers. For too long – in fact, since before I was even a bar mitzvah boy – those books have been a fixture in my universe.
A lot has changed since those encyclopedias were delivered to my childhood home in the early 1970s, and my sister and I were all excited to open up the boxes. I went through puberty, finished school, got married, moved across the globe, had kids, went bald, but those volumes – for the vast majority of that time – have always been within eyeshot.
Not that I read them all that much – for instance, Volume 6 (Di-Fo) doesn’t look like it’s been much perused – but they were always there. There was security knowing that I could, if I got this sudden urge, just go to the shelf and start reading about eschatology in the intertestamental literature.
“Take a picture of the encyclopedia, get it framed, and hang it on the wall if you’re that attached,” a friend suggested.
But it’s not the same.
While I was emptying out a four-drawer filing cabinet – a task that in the end gave me great satisfaction – I was told to scan the documents, because in this digital age there is really no reason to keep hard copies of anything. But a picture of the Encyclopedia Judaica just won’t do it. I want it there. It is a mooring that provides me with a sense of security and stability.
And stability is good during these days when the last of my four children got married, everything is in motion and all the comfortable family dynamics to which I’ve become so accustomed are dramatically changing.
There is a dance that some Hassidim do when their final child gets married, called the Mezinka, where the parents dance with a broom to symbolize sweeping the last kid out of their home.
We won’t be doing that dance. I’ve never had a desire to sweep my children out of the home. But life moves on and the kids – those little crumbs – are being swept out by their own desire and of their own volition.
But not the EJ, dammit. The EJ stays.

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