Appreciation: Herman Mayer, bookstore owner, hosted founding fathers

Israeli Ambassador to Italy Gideon Meir recalls David Ben-Gurion frequenting the legendary Jerusalem bookstore of his father, Herman Mayer.

ben gurion 88 (photo credit: )
ben gurion 88
(photo credit: )
"People from professors to authors to celebrities came to the store," Meir told The Jerusalem Post. "It was a center for all Jews. They met, bought books and talked about culture. My father was part of that." Mayer's Bookstore was founded on Queen Shlomzion Street by Ludwig Mayer - Gideon's grandfather - upon his move to Palestine from Germany in 1908. Selling books in several languages, it served as a stew pot for intellectual ideas for close to a century. Meir says that for his grandfather and father, running the shop - which contained a library on the second floor - was an expression of Zionism and their desire to educate Jews as citizens of the world. "For my grandfather and father, it was a way to make a living, but it was also a donation to the state," said Meir. "My whole family was Zionist. My grandfather moved here for Zionist reasons. We always had books, and we always talked about books. It was our flag." Herman Mayer was born in Germany in 1915, to where his father Ludwig had returned to fight for for the Vaterland. The family came back to Palestine in 1933 when the Nazi regime outlawed Jewish businesses, at which point they reopened the store. When Herman took the business over from his father, he kept its focus on culture, science and Israel's intellectual community. "They sold science, art, history and unique things connected to world culture and Jewish culture," said Meir. "The store was for the elite of Israel. It was for the academic world. It was meant for everyone, but attracted students. My father believed that the Israeli public needed to understand languages, and that Israel needed to be part of world culture." But Herman Mayer's commitment to the state did not end at the bookstore. He worked as a civil servant in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and volunteered in the Jerusalem Police until he stopped for health reasons at age 88. "He was proud of his uniform," said Meir. "He never felt he was doing enough. He understood that this was his place, that this was the only place for Jews." Meir added that Jerusalem held special significance for his father, a religious man. "Jerusalem was the crown jewel for him," said Meir. "He would never live anywhere else. Every year before 1967 he would take me and my brother to Mt. Zion on the Ninth of Av and show us the Western Wall from there. For him, the unification of Jerusalem was the desire of his soul and the realization of a dream." "He passed his Zionism on to us," he said. "The 40 years I've spent in service show my commitment to Israel that came from the Zionist education I got from my grandfather and father." Although his father passed away late last year, Meir said the bookstore, which is under new ownership and celebrates its centennial this year, retains the atmosphere it had under his father and grandfather. "The biggest thing that happened in the store is that it never changed," he said. "My father couldn't change himself or adapt the store to the modernity of Israel. When I visited there recently, it looked the same as it did when I was a child. It was a pearl in the cultural crown of Jerusalem. For me it stays that way."