Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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11
L o w e n t h a l —
O
n
C o m m u n i t y L i b r a r i e s
the future of the Jewish people stands everything to gain." Jew-
ish libraries or Jewish schools without Jewish homes are not al-
together wasted, but the cards are stacked against the permanence
or value of an education that is confined to a school-house or a
library reading-room.
As we know only too well, life in any Diaspora land sets up
powerful currents and counter-attractions against the mainte-
nance of an informed, vigorous Jewish culture. The Jewish
library, the Jewish school, and the Jewish home, even when work-
ing together, will have a hard enough struggle to prevent the grad-
ually complete evaporation of Jewish knowledge and values.
Neither library, school nor home can afford to go it alone, and
victory can be had only at the price of constant cooperation and
effort. We can hope that some day this victory will be seen in
the shabby, dog-eared, dilapidated condition of the books stacked
in every communal library; these veterans will bear, like trophies,
the scars of a triumphant campaign.
A book, after all, is chiefly an instrument for enabling us to
master the art of living. David ben Gurion, the valiant prime
minister of Israel, summed up three thousand years of history
when he said, “We have preserved the Book and the Book has
preserved us.” He was referring to the Jewish people, but the
thought and experience behind his words apply to all peoples—
and indeed, in a profoundly intimate sense, to each and all of us
individually. In books, as in all learning, we must constantly ask
ourselves, not who knows the most things but who knows the
best things. For only through assimilating the best things can we
learn how to live; and, alas, as Montaigne reminds us, we usually
learn how to live when life is fairly over. Still, it is never too late
to advance one more step.
Remarks on libraries and books cannot be more aptly con-
eluded than by another observation of Montaigne, who was in
my judgment the wisest man in modern times. “If,” said Mon-
taigne, “you have known how to compose your life, you have
accomplished a good deal more than the man who knows how to
compose a book. Have you been able to take life at its stride?
You have done more than the man who has taken cities and
empires. The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live to
the point.
“It is,” as he said in the final pages of his
Essays,
“an absolute
and, as it were, divine perfection for a man to know how to enjoy
loyally his own existence.”
Whether we acquire it in a library or a class-room, education in
the real sense seeks to impart, not so much by instruction as by
infection, the means of enriching our existence and increasing
our loyal enjoyment of it. If we can learn to do this we have be-
come not merely educated men, but we have truly succeeded in
life.