Her Books: Moving My Mother’s Library to Al-Quds

Deborah and Shirley Kaufman

Deborah Kaufman shares a tender moment with her mother, Shirley Kaufman, whose “sumptuous library of English-language poetry books” is now part of the Al-Quds University library in East Jerusalem. Credit: Deborah Kaufman.

What do you do with your parents’ possessions? With the collections of a lifetime? What do you do with the books?

I sat with my husband, Alan Snitow, in my mom’s living room in Jerusalem feeling the anxiety ebb and flow as we pondered these questions. My stepdad, Bill Daleski, had suddenly died, and I had just moved my mom, Shirley Kaufman, to the Bay Area to live near my two sisters and me so we could take care of her now that her dementia was rapidly progressing.

Now, I had flown back to this strangely quiet apartment in Rehavia, the old tree-lined neighborhood of the Ashkenazi elite: professors and intellectuals, mostly secular liberals, the generation that is now passing. We had had our share of passionate moments in this home—mostly arguments about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but also scotch-soaked parties with visiting writers, artists, and far-flung friends. In Rehavia, where the streets are mostly named after scholars and poets from the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, today you see growing numbers of black-clad Orthodox Jewish families who have taken up residence, and you hear feral cats scurrying amid the overflowing garbage bins.

My stepdad was a well-known English professor at the Hebrew University, a literary critic, and Israel Prize winner. He had a significant collection of English literature, which his family arranged to donate to the Hebrew University right after he died. Beautiful editions from Dickens and Lawrence to Sillitoe and Le Carré. My mom is a poet, author of nine books, and recipient of many literary awards. She had a large and sumptuous library of English-language poetry books, collected over sixty years, many signed by the authors. The shelves lined the walls of her study down to the floor and up to the ceiling. For her, this was the world that mattered most—George Oppen, Adrienne Rich, William Carlos Williams; the shelves burst with whole landscapes of pleasure and pain and mystery. A window looked out over a flowering Jacaranda tree in the garden below and to weathered pines across the street, where the mourning doves sang at dawn. This library was a cool oasis in a stressed-out city, and it was my mom’s private Garden of Eden, tended to over the decades.
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One thought on “Her Books: Moving My Mother’s Library to Al-Quds

  1. Deborah Kaufman’s article in Tikkun Magazine (Spring 2013) is, of course, characteristically biased. Not that one would have expected anything else from its Editor-in-Chief, Michael Lerner.

    Just a few examples:

    “Israel’s occupation of Palestine” – presumably including Haifa and Jaffa, which are included in the Palestinian Authority’s map of Palestine – a map in which Israel, of course, does not exist.

    “A Palestinian neighbourhood now cut off from west Jerusalem by the twenty-six-foot-tall concrete Israeli separation barrier” – No reference, of course, is made to why the barrier was erected in the first place following the second Intifada in which thousands of innocent men, women and children were blown up, burned and mutilated by Palestinian homicide bombers in cafes, buses and even at a Seder table as they went about their daily lives.

    Kaufman may have been “blown away” by Sari Nusseibah’s offer to accept her stepfather’s library. An unfortunate choice of words. A friend’s twin sister and mother were “blown away” by a Palestinian homicide bomber close to the Dizengoff Center when they were out shopping for clothes in preparation for her niece’s wedding….

    “There’s a kind of Jim Crow atmosphere in many Jerusalem neighbourhoods, and I was worried that the movers would be stopped, harassed or worse” – I wonder on what basis Kaufman made such an assumption, particularly since she concedes that “one increasingly sees young Palestinians on the west side of town.” I have not heard of a single Palestinian being attacked or stabbed in west Jerusalem, although the same cannot be said for Jews in east Jerusalem.

    “Palestinian intellectual life and culture … remains invisible to most Israelis and many Americans, whose vision of Palestinians are (sic!) badly clouded by prejudices and stereotypes.” – I wonder whether Kaufman understands that she is also a victim of prejudices and stereotypes, albeit from the other side. She should take a look at the social media, the internet, or even at Palestinian and Arab television programmes and see how Israelis and Jews are depicted there.

    “The ‘systematic collection’ of tens of thousands of Palestinian books … a story of theft and the erasure of a culture.” – I am sure there were many damning things done by both sides in the war of 1948, which, incidentally, Israel did not initiate. But why is Kaufman’s focus always on Israel’s demeanors giving the impression that the Palestinians are innocent victims?

    “The news from Jerusalem is worse than ever” – What a superlative! Kaufman was clearly not around when the Sabarro pizza parlour was blown up in 2001 by a Palestinian, whose female accomplice, Ahlam Tamimi, is still proud of an attack that left 13 dead and 130 injured, including Miriam Shoshan, who had 60 nails lodged in her body, a hole in her right thigh, third degree burns on 40 percent of her body and a ruptured spleen. When Tamimi heard in a TV interview that she had helped murder eight children and not just 3 as she had previously thought, she simply smiled….

    Of course, it’s disappointing that Abbas won’t sit down for peace talks without pre-conditions and of course it’s despicable that some Israeli settlers attack Palestinians, cut down their olive trees and seek to take over property and land, which is not theirs. However, let’s keep things in proportion.

    My main objection to Kaufman’s article is that it is as unbalanced as the material emanating from the Israeli far right. This is not a story of black and white, but of an unwillingness on the part of many on both sides to accept the other. As long as people continue to be sensitive to only one side of the narrative, it is difficult to see how any progress will ever be made. From that point of view, it really doesn’t make any difference whether you are Naftali Bennett or Deborah Kaufman.

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