A Swapping Success
Article Credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo
What troubled Rivka Lambert Adler before she made aliya last July was the issue of literary insecurity, a dread of running out of English-language reading material in Israel.
Little did she know that her desire to hunt down English language books and novels would not only be solved in a fun and clever way but would also result in a hefty donation to an Israeli charity. “I’m a book fiend,” laughs the former resident of Baltimore, Maryland. “I spent nine years convincing my family to make aliya, but I admit I had a concern of my own: ‘Where will I find enough English books?’ Six years ago, we bought an apartment in Ma’aleh Adumim, so we came to Israel regularly. Each time, I’d check out the local book situation. Ma’aleh Adumim has a public library, but I realized I wouldn’t have the luxury of a big English-language selection, so I started scoping out second-hand book stores. There were several, and they offered plenty of books but because the minimum price for even used books hovered at about NIS 35 (about $10), I realized that I wouldn’t be able to buy very many. I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to manage.”
As might be expected, the first months of aliya were too busy to spend much time reading, Adler says. “It’s not as though we don’t have books. My husband is a rabbi and I’m an educator. We have thousands of sfarim [religious books] in our home. But sometimes you just want something lighter. I brought some paperbacks with me, so I read those, then started circulating them around the community, seeing who else had books. What I discovered was that Ma’aleh Adumim, with its large English-speaking community, also had lots of avid readers. I started thinking that a book swap might be a good idea. Maybe we could all get together some evening and just exchange books.”
Adler started with a modest goal: 100 books. “We have an active local e-mail chat list, so I posted a notice about a book swap. A half hour after posting it, I was astonished to see I already had over 100 books donated. So I posted on some other e-mail chat sites, too, the Nefesh B’Nefesh list, BooksIsrael and a few others. One lady called to say she had 250 books left over from a lending library she’d tried to start. The idea hadn’t taken off, but she’d be glad to donate those books. Other books poured in from all over. Someone even called from Rehovot saying she had books to donate, but we didn’t have any way of picking them up. Still the news of the book swap was spreading, especially in our own community.”
The concept began to grow and evolve, too. “At first, I was just thinking of a straight swap – you donate a book, you get to choose a book. But then I had a call from a woman who said she didn’t have any books to donate but could she come and buy books? As I thought about that, I had another inspiration. I realized we could help other people with this book swap too, beyond just satisfying our own needs. My daughter, Ariella Caplan, had made aliya by herself when she was 19 and was now doing her National Service with a group called JobKatif, helping former residents of Gush Katif find employment and rebuild their lives. If we sold the books very cheap but raised just a few shekels on each book for JobKatif, that would be even better than just swapping books. We’d be helping the less fortunate at the same time.”
As the idea developed, the plans had to change, too. “In the beginning, a friend had offered her house for the book swap. We planned to set up a single table and designate an hour when people could come in and look at all the books we’d collected and make their choices. But as the boxes of books multiplied and then multiplied again, we realized we had to change the venue. Another friend had a huge balcony, and she volunteered that for the swap. The sale was to be held on Sunday, May 15. The night before, after Shabbat, over 1,000 books had been donated! Burly men came and hauled all the boxes to the book swap site. Once there, a whole team of volunteers organized them by subject – mysteries, thrillers, kids’ books, sci-fi, chick lit, on and on – over 10 tables. We created an Excel list of everyone who donated books, and for each book donated they received a ticket that allowed them to select another book. With a ticket and NIS 5, you could have any book you wanted. If you didn’t have tickets – or if you ran out – you could buy any book for NIS 10. We also had a one shekel table, where we put books that were old or not in great condition. You could buy as many of those as you wanted.”
In all, some 25 people volunteered, helping with organizing, setting up tables, packaging and picking up books, printing signs, giving out tickets and packing up the 300 or so books that were left. “We counted 45 people who donated books, and over 200 who came to swap or buy during the two hours of the swap itself. Some people even came from Jerusalem. The best part was, we raised much more money for JobKatif than anyone had dared to dream.”
“The evening itself was great,” recalls Lori Solat, one of the volunteers. ”It was well organized, well advertised and just a lot of fun. As soon as I saw Rivka’s posting, I contacted her. I love to read, and I’m in a monthly book club. I’m not a Hebrew reader, so it sounded like a good deal to me, plus it was something that would benefit the whole community. I had a few books to donate myself – novels I’d read and knew I wouldn’t read again – so it was great to exchange those for books I did want to read.”
So book lovers got books, but who was the biggest beneficiary? “JobKatif,” grins National Service volunteer Caplan. “The book swap raised NIS 4,247 – at least twice as much as I’d dared hope. It will help so much. Many people don’t realize that there are about 1,000 former residents of Gush Katif who still need help. Many of them had been pioneers, in their 20s, when they’d started their businesses there. But then in 2005, they found themselves without homes, without jobs, not knowing where their next meal was coming from. And now they are in their 50s, many without the emotional strength to start over. In the six years since the disengagement, most of the former residents have returned to self-sufficiency. The families we’re working with now are the hardest cases.”
But not always. Sometimes former residents face new troubles. “One family was doing okay, the father was working in construction but was seriously injured when he fell off a ladder – the whole thing is complicated by the fact that they have a special-needs daughter who requires about NIS 1,400 a month for her care. Now they need help again. So when I hear people say, ‘Why aren’t these people over it?’ they don’t understand all the things that can confront a family that has to start all over, rebuilding their lives from the beginning.”
Starting in December, Caplan, who is 21, will also be spending her second year of National Service with JobKatif. “I love what I’m doing. When I started looking around for National Service volunteer opportunities, I saw that most involved working with disabled adults or special-education children. I didn’t think that was for me, so I contacted JobKatif and asked if they were interested in a National Service volunteer. They said yes, and that’s where it started. Now I feel connected to these families,” she says.
“Just imagine what the former residents faced: They didn’t just lose their homes, they lost their livelihood. And it wasn’t just them – it was their neighbors, their parents, their best friends, their
doctors and dentists and the guy who owned the local grocery. Everyone they knew was in the same situation. It was a much bigger issue than just losing a home. But what’s amazing is how resilient they’ve been. They’ve started so many new businesses – boutique wineries, a bed & breakfast, a pizzeria, a candy store, a modest amusement park,” she says.
“It’s funny how the book swap idea grew and grew,” says Adler. “What started out as a simple idea to help me find cheap books to read ultimately morphed into a major community event. Surprising, too, because my husband and I and our daughter Shani, who’s 16 now, were all newcomers in the community. In spite of that, so many people were willing to volunteer, to donate books and time. This is a great community!” she says.
What’s next? “The day after the swap, I got a flood of e-mails asking when the next book swap would be. I’m thinking that in another three or four months, some of those books that were swapped will be ready to be swapped again. That would be good for us and would give another boost to JobKatif, too.” •
(To learn how you can get involved and help JobKatif meet their goal to return all former residents of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron to the workforce, email firstname.lastname@example.org)