Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
estine, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1990). It offers a comprehen­
sive review of the early history of public libraries in Palestine
and traces their growth from their beginnings at the end of
the preceding century.
Schidorsky has amassed a wealth of material to document the
slow rise of public libraries during the first and second aliyot
and has described the process which culminated in the estab­
lishment of a Jewish national library. Reviewed are the efforts
to establish libraries by workers’ groups, educational institutions
and by B’nai B’rith lodges that made the fostering of libraries
their special project.
The setting up of secular public libraries did not go unchal­
lenged, for it aroused the opposition of the adherents of the
old Yishuv who feared the spread of haskalah. Following a
shortlived effort in 1875 to establish a library named in honor
of Moses Montefiore and yet another attempt made about a
decade later by Eliezer Ben Yehuda and his circle, the B’nai
B’rith Jerusalem lodge succeeded in 1892 in founding the Mid­
rash Abravanel library. Eventually housed in its own building,
this library grew to 30,000 volumes by 1920 when it was taken
over by the World Zionist Organization. In 1925, it was finally
incorporated into the Hebrew University and became known
by its present title, Jewish National and University Library.
Schidorsky mentions many individuals who had a share in
shaping the future Jewish national library. He has done well
to devote special chapters to two individuals who played a special
role in this regard.
Dr. Joseph Chasanowitz, a physician and Zionist activist of
Bialystok, is most closely associated with the Jewish national li­
brary idea. When he visited Jerusalem in 1890, the B’nai B’rith
leaders prevailed upon him to devote himself to its realization.
He became obsessed with the need of collecting books and dis­
patching them to Jerusalem. Viewing a Jewish national library
as an important ingredient of the Palestine spiritual center, he
worked incessantly on his project. In 1891, he sent the first
shipment of 9,800 books from his private collection to Midrash
Abravanel. During the next two decades the number of books
he transferred had exceeded 22,000.
It may be added that among those whom Dr. Chazanowitz
contacted for help was Ephraim Deinard, the bookseller and
bibliophile. Among the Deinard papers at the Jewish Theolog­