The world through Jewish eyes – the Jewish Library, Hanover
Famous Israeli writers like Mira Magén or Eshkol Nevo have held readings here. Just ten years old, the library of Hanover’s Liberal Jewish Community is known and cherished well beyond the borders of that community. Its shelves hold more than 10.000 volumes in five different languages – German, Russian, English, Yiddish, and Hebrew – and, in addition, a wide selection of teaching and learning materials.
Long before it moved from its old rooms in Eintrachtstrasse to the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Community Center in the Leinhausen district of Hanover, the Liberal Jewish Community had dreamed of establishing a Jewish library. When it became clear that the new community center would be built, initial plans for the library were formed, and the Israel Jacobson Association was founded in December 2007 as the governing body providing the organizational framework for the library.
Where once sweet music played: reading in the former organ gallery
Our home – the “organ gallery library”
In the course of planning the conversion of the Gustavus Adolphus Church in Leinhausen into the Etz Chaim Community Center, the association was able to install the library in the former organ gallery above and alongside the new synagogue. With a floor space of some 80 sq. m. (c. 860 sq. ft.), the room gains considerably from its two stories: bookshelves reach to the ceiling and a balcony provides access to the upper shelves. Plans for the new library circulated quickly in the community, and by 2012 we had moved, with a few crates of books, into our new premises.
The association has always been a voluntary body, the library work being in the hands of a largely unchanging group of active members, assisted by temporary staff provided by the community and the Federal Employment Agency. Rental and ancillary costs (cleaning, heating etc.) are borne by the Liberal Jewish Community.
The initial work of the library consisted – and still consists – in building up a collection. Gifts of books soon flowed generously, including an early gift of several hundred volumes from a former librarian and collector of Judaica in Hamburg. All these donations, both large and small, had to be selected and cataloged – a task for which the Elazar classification system used by many Jewish libraries in North America was chosen from the beginning.
The voluntary workers soon learned what a great distance there was between a growing collection of interesting books and an organized library. Each book has to be graded for acceptance, allocated a shelf mark and catalog number, and entered into the user interface before it can be labeled and put on the shelves.
Our collection – member of the Babylon Multilingual Library Network
We received valuable support from Hanover Municipal Library, which arranged for us to join the Common Library Network (GBV) of the North German states, where our holdings are cataloged digitally – a step made available to all independent Hanover libraries belonging to the Babylon Multilingual Library Network. As well as the Jewish Library, this comprises two Iranian libraries, the Hannah Arendt Library, and the Yazidi Academy Library, all of which have multilingual holdings. We collect books in German, Russian English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Our largest group of holdings is in German, but we also have an interesting collection of Russian books, largely used by members of our community, and several hundred Yiddish books, mostly of Israeli origin.
What books, then – given the limited space in our library – were we going to collect? Our active members soon agreed that the collection should aim to “see the world through Jewish eyes.” What that means is easy to decide with a book on Jewish mysticism by a Jewish author like Gershom Scholem, or Sholem Asch’s The Witch from Castile, but our holdings also include non-Jewish authors describing the Jewish world – e.g. Christoph Schulte on the Jewish Enlightenment, or Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers.
However, much remains open to discussion. Given the availability elsewhere of Christian theological perspectives on Jewry, Judaism, and Israel, we do not regularly acquire books in those areas. Nor do books on National Socialism, the Holocaust, and its perpetrators – other than major standard works – form part of our acquisition program. We do, on the other hand, collect biographies and memoirs of Shoah survivors and have several hundred volumes of this sort. Our homepage also carries a link to the website Nazi era in Hanover, which presents this topic, especially for younger readers. Likewise with anti-Semitism: a Jewish library cannot exclude this topic but it is not one of our main focuses.
Current Jewish life
Presentation of current Jewish life in all its aspects – from Jewish cooking to contemporary Jewish authors worldwide – is important to us. Our collection includes works on the Torah, the Babylonian Talmud (in the Steinsaltz bilingual Aramaic-English edition) and responsa, Jewish philosophy from Maimonides, through Hermann Cohen, to Walter Benjamin and Mordecai Kaplan, and works of Jewish literature, as well as on Jewish and Israeli history and culture. Our children’s books are widely used in the community kindergarten and in our youth work. A further major acquisition focus is on contemporary Israeli literature in German translation, and we also have wide holdings in contemporary Jewish writing in Russian and English.
Our books and services are aimed at readers not only in the Jewish community and allied groups, but also at school and university students, and indeed all other interested members of the public in the Hanover region. We offer by appointment an advisory service on reading material, for instance for students preparing presentations. Consultation of the library holdings on the library premises is free of charge, and books can be borrowed on a reader’s pass costing (as at Hanover Municipal Library) €20 per year. Anyone wishing to support our work is invited to join our governing body, the Israel Jacobson Association.
For many years now we have offered – generally on the first Wednesday in the month – regular lectures on Jewish literary, musical, or historical topics, and for a long time there was also a parallel program in Russian. In this way our library has developed into a center of Jewish cultural life.
Dr. Kay Schweigmann-Greve is the Chairperson of the Israel Jacobson Association, the governing body of the library.
Our online catalog is available for consultation on the Jewish Library website.
Title image: © IMAGO / epd