For your reading pleasure

The AACI-Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound, based in Jerusalem, sends its large-print books and audio material to readers all over the country.

The AACI-Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound, based in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The AACI-Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound, based in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For people who like to read books but don’t want to strain their eyes to do so, there’s good news.
The AACI-Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound has expanded its clientele and is now open to anyone in the country who wants to borrow books from its extensive selection of large-print material in English.
In addition to books, the library – located in the AACI-Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem – has a wide array of audio books on CD, MP3 and cassette, and its materials range from fiction, nonfiction, humor and plays to biographies and Judaica.
According to library director and co-founder Naomi Katz, the library is the only English-language one of its kind in Israel. People can browse through the well-organized shelves in person or order material by phone or email after going through the ever- growing catalogue, which is available on email or by post.
“We can send material all over the country,” says Katz. “We send books and tapes to kibbutzim, moshavim, the Golan Heights, Eilat – all over. We have a complete catalogue on email. Or people can tell us what kinds of books they like, and we will send them material to suit their taste,” says the 89-yearold Philadelphia native, who has five children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
For the visually impaired and the homebound, the material is sent by mail postage-free, thanks to an arrangement the library has with the post office. Those who are not impaired must pay the mailing cost. Borrowers return the material to the library in the same padded envelope in which they received it.
The annual NIS 150 membership fee gives members access to as much material as they like, and borrowers can keep the material for up to one month – although those who want to keep it a little longer can ask for an extension.
While the library is accessible to all, Katz says she would like to increase its annual membership. And membership does have its privileges. In addition to having unlimited access to the material, members receive a monthly newsletter and are entitled to receive free gifts, such as large-print calendars and religious texts like Haggadot, the Grace After Meals and Hanukka blessings.
These are donated to the library by members and publishers of Judaic material, such as The Jewish Heritage for the Blind and Jewish Books International, both located in New York.
Due to innovations such as the Kindle and other electronic media, membership has waned somewhat, Katz explains, “but we would like to have more members.”
The library director, who has a Kindle herself, adds, “I still like to read a book. “ And so do many others.
“We have members who live abroad,” she says. “When they come to Israel to visit, they join the library for a few months so they can have books to read while they’re here.”
The material in the library is purchased from Amazon and various other sources in the US and the UK. Donations also come from individuals and other libraries, and these can be sent for free from overseas, says Katz.
“We have both new and used material.
We get a list of bestsellers from The New York Times and order the books in large print or on CD.”
Most books are published in regular as well as large print, she explains.
HOW DID it all begin? Like any good story, it started with a good idea.
Katz made aliya from Philadelphia in 1972.
“My husband and I came to Israel when we were in our 40s,” she recounts.
“I had been a school psychologist, and he was a CPA. We felt that Israel was where we should be; it was important in our lives. But it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. We went to live on a kibbutz, and I started an English library there.”
When she and her family moved to Jerusalem, a friend in Philadelphia, Geraldine Schneeberg, suggested that she set up a library for the visually impaired. Shneeberg’s parents, Mary and Ben Cohen, had utilized a mobile library in Florida and had left some money with which to do something meaningful in Jerusalem, so the family donated $20,000 to establish the library.
“I began the project in 1995 with Marcia Lewison,” says Katz, who suffers from visual impairment herself due to macular degeneration.
“It was difficult to start, because it was not considered essential at the time,” she says. “We looked for a user- friendly place to set up shop. The AACI [Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel] said they would give us some space and put us in a corner of the seniors’ activity room in the old AACI building on Maneh Street.”
“I wrote a letter to The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and told them what we were doing. It was the time [after] the intifada, and Americans wanted to help. We received boxes of books and CDs. We used the donation from the Cohen family to buy a computer and new material,” she says.
In its attractive new AACI premises in Talpiot, the library now has its own large room with wall-to-wall, book-laden shelves.
After all these years, the Cohen family continues to support the library.
“At first it was just Gerry and her brothers, but now the whole family is involved,” says Katz. “We receive checks from 12 of the children. That’s how we are able to keep up with the latest bestsellers and buy new books.”
The library director encourages people to donate large-print books or CDs.
“And, of course, money helps us buy new books and equipment,” she adds.
When someone donates books or money to the library, he/she receives a card of appreciation designed by Katz, who is also an artist. As a special gift for someone, one can sponsor the purchase of a book on CD or in large print.
The honoree receives a card by mail stating that a book has been purchased in his or her name, and a donor label is attached to the item.
The entire library enterprise is gratifying for the AACI, Katz and her staff of about 20 volunteers.
“Working in the library gives me a sense of purpose in life,” she says. “I get up in the morning and help others. And the volunteers are my friends. It’s like a club. We talk about books, we gossip and show each other family pictures.”
The volunteers, some of whom have been with the library since its inception, handle the packages of material that come in, send out new books, work on the computer answering emails and help the people who come into the library. (Although people are welcome to sit and read in the library, Katz says that most don’t.) “Wonderful people work here,” says one of the volunteers. “We provide excellent service. It’s different than other libraries, and we have a very grateful population.”
“It’s so heartwarming and amazing,” says another. “People are so excited that they can finally hear or read a book.”
“We receive words of gratitude all the time,” says Katz, taking out a thick file of letters of appreciation. “For example, we’ve gotten letters from people on dialysis who thanked us for something to fill the long hours. Since this is the only source for these items in Israel, we fill an urgent need.”
One new immigrant wrote, “Thank you for your wonderful tape library.
Since making aliya, your audio books on tape have opened the world of literature for me at home and in my car.
They help me feel at home here in Israel and make my transition more enjoyable.”
Another letter reads, “Your library has been a lifesaver. I don’t know what I would have done without you and your staff.”
Such expressions of gratitude speak volumes about the contribution the library is making to the country’s English-speaking population.
The AACI – Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound is open Sunday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It is located at 37 Pierre Koenig Street/2 Poalei Zedek Street, fourth floor, Room 35. For more information: (02) 560-0912 or