ESRA’s Israeli book stores donate their proceeds to worthy projects

The Israel-based organization ESRA (playing on the word for “help” in Hebrew, it is an acronym for English Speakers Residents’ Association).

ESRA’s bookshop in Ra’anana (photo credit: Courtesy)
ESRA’s bookshop in Ra’anana
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Once upon a time someone had an idea. It was a good idea and the person who had it was energetic and determined, so the idea turned into reality. It started on a small scale – but because the idea was for a good, worthwhile endeavor, it grew over time and benefited many people.
That paragraph could be a summary of very many projects, organizations and activities. One prime example is the Israel-based organization ESRA (playing on the word for “help” in Hebrew, it is an acronym for English Speakers Residents’ Association).
ESRA was started in 1979 by South African immigrant Merle Guttman, with a meeting of a few English-speakers in her Herzliya home. It has now grown to Israel’s largest English-speaking volunteer organization, with projects and activities nationwide and many thousands of members.
Like the organization itself, the ESRA secondhand bookshop in Ra’anana (there are two others, in Modi’in and in Zichron Ya’acov) started small and grew. Someone had the idea of putting a few books on some shelves in the ESRA office in Ra’anana. People donated books they no longer needed and they were sold for a nominal amount, generating funds for ESRA projects.
The embryo bookshop proved popular and needed more space, so it was moved into spare space in the adjacent kitchen area. A few shelves for books were added to the ESRA nearly new shop. In 2019, the Ra’anana bookshop gained its own premises, in a mall at 88 Ahuza Street.
Bright and airy, the bookshop offers a wealth of authors and best-sellers, fiction and non-fiction and every genre. One section of the shop has children’s books for all ages and there is a small section of Hebrew books, both adults’ and children’s.
The books are well-organized and catalogued and the shop is staffed by dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, who will help you find the book you are looking for, or recommend a book for you to enjoy. The prices of the books are laughably low – few books (mainly the newer releases) cost more than 10 shekels, and there are books for as little as shekels 5 or less.
And the added bonus is that all profits from the bookshop go to support ESRA projects. The aim of all ESRA projects are to help the weaker and more disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society.
An example of a highly successful ESRA project is “Students Build a Community.” Students are provided housing in disadvantaged neighborhoods and in return they mentor a group of local schoolchildren and become social activists in the community.
Other projects benefit people with special needs, and include a weekly social club and a computer course teaching basic skills. For high-potential youth, there is a program providing educational enrichment in biology, physics, chemistry, marine science and ecology, which takes place at the Ruppin Marine Science Institute’s Michmoret Campus.
ESRA also has a fund for scholarships and grants, providing financial assistance to students without a support network, often enabling them to complete their studies rather than drop out. ESRA volunteers give supplementary English lessons to students in local schools. And there are very many more ESRA projects, all making a difference to the wider Israeli society. All are funded by donations and by profits from ESRA’s social and cultural activities, including the bookshop.
Interestingly, it turns out that buying and reading books, whether from the ESRA bookshop or any other source, have many other benefits, especially in our fast-moving electronic world, where the ubiquitous smartphone has become an essential part of our daily functioning. We literally have the Internet in our pocket at all times and can seemingly find out the answer to almost any question at any time. But research shows that we are stressed and distracted by the constant beeping and flashing of our phones, that our sleep can be disturbed and that being available 24/7 makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Similarly, the use of social media can, paradoxically, lead to isolation and depression. Add to this the fact many of us spend many hours of the day working in front of a computer screen, with the potential damage to eye health, and it’s clear that the many advantages of technology come with some very significant drawbacks.
Research shows that, as our world becomes increasingly fast-paced and technology dominated, sitting and reading a book brings many significant benefits. As well as improving vocabulary, increasing knowledge and enhancing imagination and ability to focus, leisure reading lowers stress levels, can improve depression and helps with sleep. Apart from that, it’s just plain enjoyable!
There are many good reasons, then, to visit the ESRA secondhand bookshop. Next time you have a spare half hour in Raanana, Modi’in or Zichron Ya’akov, do pop in to the ESRA bookshop. You won’t regret it!