Tzfat's English Library
The "Anglos' " Library
You can hear a lot of English on the ancient streets of Safed and considering its small size, cultural makeup (largely Sephardi) and distance from the main population centers of Israel, Tzfat has a surprisingly large number of Anglo immigrants and native English speakers.
Visitors often comment on this language phenomenon while in Safed. Even in the short time they are in Tzfat, they hear New York, Midwest and other identifiably American English. (With all due respect to the Brits, Aussies and South Africans in the city, most speakers of English are from North America).
There are many reasons why English speakers are drawn to Tzfat, among them the sense of community, the religious life and the clean air. But for many ex-Anglos, the deciding factor for settling in Tzfat is The Library.
Established in the 1970s by Edyth Geiger, a dynamic dame from Miami, the Tzfat English Library is a haven for speakers of English who crave a bit of their home country. "I would never start my Shabbat preparations on Friday mornings without a quick stop in the library to get some Shabbos reading," one sheitel-wearing* member of a Hassidic sect in Tzfat says. "It keeps me going throughout the week," another reader confides, his ponytail bobbing behind him.
The library began in Edyth's tiny apartment after she arrived in Tzfat. A voracious reader, Edyth soon realized that if she wanted books, she would have to take action. She started to borrow friends' books, and when that well ran dry, she asked friends and well-wishers to send volumes from the States. Word got around that Edyth was willing to lend her books, and slowly her borrow-and-lend system evolved into today's library.
Thousands of books on every subject imaginable are catalogued, categorized, shelved and tracked as hundreds of people visit weekly, checking out and returning her books. For decades, volunteers would keep the library orderly and functioning, but Edyth managed the whole operation.
Edyth Geiger passed away at the age of 94 in June, 2013. She is dearly missed. Not only did Edyth coordinate volunteer activity and undertake all necessary fund raising (thousands of dollars yearly), she oversaw all new arrivals to the library- both from donations and from her own purchases at used book stores throughout the country. Edyth staffed the returns desk every Friday morning, eagle-eyeing tardy borrowers, as well as making sure that the library didn't lose its personal flavor. "I've kept this book aside for you all week," she could often be heard telling a visitor, "because I know you like this author."
There's other sharing that goes on in the library. People of different backgrounds and beliefs come together to talk, swap stories and opinions and just mingle. It's not at all unusual to find a group of fervently Orthodox and secular readers clustered in a corner of the library, animatedly discussing a book or exchanging ideas.
Well into her nineties, Edyth ensured that the library stayed as technologically advanced as the budget will allow and she was
overseeing the digital cataloging of the inventory.
The library has a children's section, audiotapes for the visually impaired, videotapes and DVDs, magazines on every conceivable subject, jigsaw puzzles and a wide variety of reading material that any large city library would be proud to have. It's no wonder that so many Anglos, when asked to explain why they ended up in Tzfat, start out "Well, there's this library, you see....."
For more on the library, click here.