World’s most unusual book fair!

The newest Melabev center cares for men and women with dementia under age 50.

THE PROCESS of collecting and sorting books by topic and language takes all year.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE PROCESS of collecting and sorting books by topic and language takes all year.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It starts with a stubbed toe. Barefoot and hurrying to answer the phone, I crash into a chair. My toe turns mauve. Too much furniture, too much stuff, I gripe. Next comes my New Year’s resolution to declutter our home. The few superfluous chairs are easy to eliminate. Next – an easy target – tens of videotapes. Then I receive a reminder from Dr. Deborah Katz, a Jerusalem orthodontist, about the annual fund-raising book sale she runs from her dental office for the Melabev Day Centers for dementia and Alzheimer sufferers. That’s the sign to face what is for me the hardest area: pruning books.
Katz, who straightens incisors, bicuspids and molars for adults and children in the tony Talbiyeh neighborhood of Jerusalem, is once again about to remove the mirrors, probes, excavators of her workspace, and fill her five-room office with some 30,000 used books. Children’s storybooks, adult novels, history and psychology tomes, cookbooks, how-to, Bibles – you name it. Each book sells for NIS 10, regardless of size or rarity.
The more books I donate, the more I support the Melabev centers. The newest center cares for men and women with dementia under age 50. How motivating!
Except that everyone knows, when it comes to books, parting isn’t easy. And maybe for us People of the Book it’s even harder. We have shelves of sacred books, plus semisacred volumes of commentary and philosophy. No one has yet invented a Shabbat Kindle for our “readingest” day of the week.
I seek advice from the international TV star Marie Kondo, best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Her overall strategy is to tackle one cluttered genre at a time, and not to go room by room. I seem to be on the right track. She recommends touching each book. If it fails to transmit joy, part with it, saying a fond but firm goodbye. She warns not to be distracted by papers that are in proximity of the books. Deal with those later. I overlook her advice to take all the books off the shelf and pile them in the living room. A logistic impossibility in our home.
The beginning goes easily. Doubles go. Old college textbooks are outdated. I can’t offer family members my old child-rearing advice books; they’d take it as an insult. Besides, babies don’t sleep on their bellies anymore. I find a glorious photograph of my late mother on a cruise ship in one of my anthologies of Shalom Aleichem stories. She must have loved this book. I put it back on the shelf.
I have no idea why I’ve kept a 1992 guide to Scandinavia, except that the top shelves are so hard to get to. I’m no longer interested in meditation, Malaysian cooking or the medieval English poetry that preceded Beowulf. But is anyone?
I DROP off my first 38 books and have a sit-down with Katz, an energetic former American with short gray hair and light blue eyes. She grew up in Cleveland and studied dentistry at Columbia University in New York.
Running the book sale has given her a new appreciation for the wide-ranging tastes of book buyers. “Just when you think no one will want a certain book, someone will come in and gasp that this is exactly the book he or she is looking for,” she says.
The sale is visited by people ranging from connoisseurs of rare books to parents with crawling babies to seniors. There are indeed buyers for oversize coffee-table books and multivolume histories.
How did this busy professional get involved in this laborious philanthropic project?
About a decade ago, Katz’s daughter Yedida and her dear friend Noa Mishaly, both then 12, wanted to take part in the Melabev fund-raiser walk. To their consternation, each walker had to raise NIS 1,000. The preteen girls couldn’t bear asking people to give them money. They thought they’d bake cakes and run a bake sale instead, but their moms thought a book sale would be better. After all, everyone had extra books, and those same bookworms would find other people’s books irresistible. They filled the Mishaly dining room table in Givat Ze’ev with books and, voilà, they raised the money. The following year the sale moved to the Katz family’s larger dining room table. Then it moved to Katz’s professional office.
Between patients, Katz and her longtime secretary, Esther Lerner, sort and catalogue every volume. And then, to facilitate what must be the world’s only book sale in an orthodontist’s office, Katz closes down her practice for a week and a half. Overnight, she and volunteers build book shelves and display the books.
The process of collecting and sorting books by topic and language takes all year. In between patients, Katz and Lerner categorize every book that comes in.
“Being precise down to the tenths of millimeters to align teeth makes me highly organized,” Katz says with a lovely smile.
Most books are in Hebrew and English. There’s a growing request for French books.
BACK AT home, I add my only book in French, Camus’s L’Étranger, to the next growing pile of books for donation. What are the chances I’ll ever reread this book in French?
One of the five rooms at the book sale is filled with Jewish religious books, sifrei kodesh. I find these hard to part with, but let’s face it, how many hard-backed Passover Haggadot do we really need? Our offspring now have their own favorite editions.
As my shelves lighten up, forgotten but dear or fascinating books become more prominent. A slim volume of essays by the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has a bookmark from a little Jewish calendar for Tishrei 2003, and his essays on life and death suit my New Year musings as well as they did 16 years ago. It’s a keeper.
I get my husband involved in the challenge. We reach 200 books, a small but significant dent in our collection.
My broken toe has healed. One question remains. How many books will we buy and refill our shelves with, when the book sale starts? After all, it’s all for a good cause.
The book sale runs November 4-6 at the Katz Orthodontic Office, 19 Washington Street, Jerusalem. Hours 8 a.m.-10 a.m.; phone before to drop off books: (02) 624-8655. A presale, requiring a donation of NIS 50, is on Sunday, November 3, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.