Holland’s largest Hebrew bookstore shutters doors

One of Western Europe’s largest Hebrew bookstores closed in Amsterdam as its former owners prepare to immigrate to Israel.

Samech, located in southern Amsterdam, has been supplying Hebrew-language books to members of Holland’s Jewish community for nearly 40 years and possessed a stock of 100,000 books, according to the website of the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK.

The store, which used to be the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, belonged to Daan and Shulamit Daniel, who are planning to move to Israel. All their children had already moved out of the Netherlands in favor of “places with richer Jewish lives than Amsterdam,” according to NIK.

The store’s entire stock was sold or given away last month, the NIK report said. Holland has a Jewish population of 41,000 to 45,000, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Immigration from Western Europe brought 3,243 new arrivals to Israel in 2012, an increase of 6 percent from the previous year. However, immigration from the Benelux area  — Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — dropped that year by 26 percent to 209 new arrivals.

Samech used to service Holland’s outsized population of Israeli expats, estimated by the Dutch Jewish community to be approximately 10,000.

According to Dr. Yinon Cohen of Tel Aviv University, some 6,600 Israelis are living in France and fewer than 3,000 in total in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Britain has the largest population of Israeli expats in Europe, with 40,000 living in London alone, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Unthinkable: Man opens bookstore

If it weren’t for a small red neon sign that said “books,” I probably wouldn’t have made a right turn on Idaho Avenue last Saturday night to discover Tony Jacobs’ little storefront masterpiece. I was on my way to the Nuart to catch a late film with a friend, and we figured we would find parking on Sawtelle Boulevard.

But we never figured we would also find a little bookstore called SideShow on a tiny street with no pedestrian traffic. In fact, these days I don’t expect to find a bookstore on any street, regardless of pedestrian traffic. As we know all too well, and as reported in a recent cover story in The Journal, bookstores all over the country have been falling like dry leaves as consumers have swarmed to the convenience of online purchasing.

So, why would a middle-aged Jewish man with no retail experience open a bookstore two years ago, just as so many others were closing down?

I wish I had a good answer for you.

“It’s a little bit like an alcoholic who runs a bar,” Jacobs, 51, told me on Sunday when I returned to the shop to interview him. “I’m just in love with all this stuff.”

Loving creative stuff is pretty much the story of Jacobs’ life. After graduating from Brown University in the early 1980s, he spent more than a decade in New York City following his first love — directing independent films. He also directed children’s television shows like “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” for Nickelodeon and “Reading Rainbow” for PBS.

But Jacobs had another love brewing — pulp fiction paperbacks from the ’50s and ’60s. When he wasn’t directing, he scoured old bookstores, flea markets and book fairs for obscure paperbacks like “The Stone Face” (“An American Negro in Paris discovers what it feels like to be a ‘white man’ ”) by William Gardner Smith, which I bought and am now reading.

After a few years, the boxes began to pile up. By the time he moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to further his film career, he had accumulated several thousand books, as well as old magazines, photographs, posters and artifacts. His love of pulp fiction had grown to include pretty much any book or object (like vintage cameras) that was old and interesting.

But once he got married and had children, Jacobs realized that “the film life and the family life were not going well together.” He didn’t like the idea of “having to wait for phone calls” in order to make a living. So he started to sell some of his stuff on eBay.

Meanwhile, he continued his regular treks to flea markets and book fairs. He hit pay dirt one day when he discovered an old bookstore and magazine stand on Pico Boulevard with a large collection of old paperbacks, which the owner had purchased for next to nothing from a printer who had gone out of business. Jacobs became the store’s No. 1 customer.

His collection grew. So many books piled up in his 600-square-foot office that there was only a narrow passage from the door to his desk. The space he currently occupies on Idaho was supposed to be a new, larger office. But because it’s a storefront, it got him thinking: “Maybe I’ll open up a bookstore!”

So he did. Within a few weeks, 30 years of meticulous collecting was now on display for Los Angeles book lovers. The space is so crammed with books and other goodies that its official name is SideShow Rare & Remarkable Books, Art and Curiosities. If you visit, give yourself several hours.

I plan to bring my kids there very soon so they can experience what bookstore lovers know so well: the pleasure of browsing and discovering. Buying things online is focused and instantaneous. Browsing through a bookstore involves lingering, wallowing, savoring, daydreaming and “bumping into” ideas and images you never knew existed. I want my kids to experience that pleasure.

It’s a multisensory experience. For one thing, the place smells like books. And, in the case of SideShow, as you hang around the entrance perusing the books displayed on the sidewalk, your eyes are not distracted by anything else, because there is nothing else. In an odd way, the location on a nondescript street is ideal. Here is a rebel bookstore, off the beaten path, where it belongs.

Where does Jacobs’ love of books come from? He thinks it might be in his genes. At a family reunion in New York a few years ago, he discovered that, in the late 1800s, his Jewish ancestors ran one of the largest libraries in Vilnius, Lithuania, called the Strashun Library. So maybe, he says, he’s just reviving an old family tradition.

Yes, but isn’t he concerned that reviving this family tradition is a little precarious at a time when bookstores are tanking?

Actually, he’s not.

“The big trees are falling,” he told me, referring to the closing of mega bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

“Maybe that will create a little sunshine for little sprouts like us to grow.”

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Spain’s high court overturns Nazi bookstore conviction

Spain’s Jewish community has slammed a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that overturns the conviction of four people connected to a Barcelona bookstore that sold Nazi literature.

The four connected to the now defunct bookshop, Kalki, had been found guilty by a lower court of fostering xenophobia and anti-Semitism through the selling of Nazi literature. The acquittals include a publisher in the nearby town of Molins de Rei.

In 2009, the four were each sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail after being found guilty of selling publications that justified the Holocaust and praised the Nazi regime.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Miguel Colmenero wrote that the selling of Nazi propaganda that promotes genocide is only a crime when there exists a danger that it could create a climate of hostility that would incite violence.

“Jews in Spain view with extreme concern the fact that the Spanish judiciary, so sensitive in certain situations, does not consider as criminal conduct the sale of books denying the Holocaust and promoting racism, in spite of standing criminal legislation to the contrary,” the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain said in a statement.

The Israeli Embassy in Madrid in a statement said that Israel was “sad and concerned” to hear of the acquittals, “allowing for the circulation of books that incite hate and deny the Holocaust.”

An Eye for Modernism

On March 5, 1936, Julius Shulman was awestruck when he saw the Hollywood Hills home designed by legendary California Modernist architect Richard Neutra.

A free-spirited 26-year-old photographer, who was unsettled on a career, Shulman casually snapped six shots of the mansion with his Vestpocket Kodak camera. “I had never seen a house like this before,” he marveled.

Neither had the public. What Shulman could not foresee at the time is that those six shots would usher in the beginning of a new genre in the fine arts: architectural photography.

“Julius Shulman in the 1930s was the first person to document the stuff,” said Eric Chavkin, who with his wife, Alison Pinsler, runs the architectural bookstore Form Zero in downtown Los Angeles. “His images were the images that defined Modernism in Southern California. Julius captured the love of California and nature, even though its a manmade nature, nature is part of the shot.”

On a recent November day, a downpour drenched Shulman’s glass-walled studio, nestled on a lush two acres in the Hollywood Hills off Mulholland Drive. Wearing a bright red shirt and tan slacks secured by matching tan suspenders, Shulman, a 92-year-old who could pass for 65, talked by phone to a San Diego public television executive, who wanted 186 of Shulman’s photos for an upcoming book project.

Just days before, Shulman had contributed prints — including a shot of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the rarely seen backside of Notre Dame in Paris — to an architecture book on places of worship.

“This is the secret of my life,” Shulman told The Journal. “I’ve become more and more involved.”

He recalled an item he once read about a German prime minister who was still active at 91. “And here I am 92. I look at my desk, and it’s cluttered with projects.”

Shulman, whose photography has been featured in LIFE and in dozens of architecture magazines and who recently finished a series of photos for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, can be found amid the clutter of a busy life: stacks of oversized prints, vertical sculptures, cameras, golf clubs, funky ’70s-style lounge chairs and shelves filled with architecture books. A poster of the cover of his Taschen-published 1998 autobiography, “Julius Shulman: Architecture and its Photography,” hangs behind one of two messy desks in the studio.

Born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrant parents, Shulman grew up in Connecticut, where his father moved the family in order to pursue farming. In 1920, the Shulmans again relocated to Boyle Heights, where Shulman’s father started a store, New York Dry Goods, on Brooklyn Avenue and Chicago Street.

Shulman had his bar mitzvah on Oct. 13, 1923, at the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights. After Shulman’s father died in 1923 at age 39, New York Dry Goods was run by his mother, two brothers and two sisters. Shulman’s brothers later ran Shulman Brothers Appliances. Shulman said, “They died too young,” like his father, in their pursuit to make money.

But that was never Shulman’s interest. He entered UCLA in 1929 to study electrical engineering. That lasted only two weeks. He spent the next seven years auditing courses at UCLA and UC Berkeley, where he shared a $25-a-month pad with pal Milton Goldberg (who founded Camp Max Strauss).

All that changed when he returned to Los Angles in 1936 and met Neutra, an architect famous for his sleek, modern style in which plate-glass walls and ceilings turned into deep overhangs that seemingly connected the indoors with the surrounding outdoors.

Their meeting came about through the six shots that Shulman snapped of the Neutra home. Shulman sent them to one of the architect’s apprentices, whom he had befriended. Neutra saw the photos and immediately hired Shulman.

“He would analyze each composition,” Shulman said. “He was the only architect looking over my shoulders 24 hours a day.”

Unlike others who had worked with Neutra, Shulman wasn’t fazed by the demanding designer, who, Shulman said, was a lousy photographer. Neutra’s wife, Dione, once told Shulman, “Julius, you would die if you saw his pictures. He was lucky if he had five or six pictures to show,” Shulman said.

But Shulman’s photographic eye combined with Neutra’s architectural vision sparked a new form of photography. Shots of Neutra’s Kauffman home in Palm Springs for a 1949 edition of LIFE helped place Shulman’s work in dozens of architecture magazines, where they had an impact on the field.

Once, Shulman explained, he was driving Arts & Architecture editor John Entenza to his home when New York-based Entenza looked out the window and told him to stop.

“He inquired about a coffee shop, next door to Schwab’s drug store,” he said. “It was very extreme, even for Modernism.”

Shulman wound up snapping shots of Googies coffee shop, the 1950 John Lautner creation that once stood on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, now the site of the Laemmle Sunset 5 gateway. His photos of Googies ran in Arts & Architecture, and helped popularize the funky West Coast retro-futuristic look of diners and bowling alleys throughout California and Nevada, which is called “the Googie style.”

However, things did not always run smoothly for the photographer, according to Chavkin. During the 1950s, he said, Shulman was ensnared in a backlash against Modernism.

“Most of the proponents of Modernism — Neutra, Schindler, Gregory Ain — were Jewish,” Chavkin said. “I don’t think that sat well with the country club set back East. A lot of the East Coast magazines stayed away from publishing L.A. architecture. They weren’t allowed to be exhibited. And now, of course, L.A. is where the world’s architecture starts from.”

Today, Shulman’s Modernist home is a rhapsody of rectangular geometry in steel and glass. Shulman has often photographed his home, which he acquired in 1947 from Raphael Soriano, a pupil of Neutra. Through Shulman, Soriano wound up designing the Jewish Community Center of Boyle Heights. Through his photography, Shulman also befriended Neutra’s peer, Rudolf Schindler (“very bohemian”), who, like Neutra, was a Viennese Jew who cemented his reputation in California via Modernism.

As a Jew, Shulman is proud of his contributions to photography.

“We as a people, whether it’s God blessing us or overseeing us or nurturing us, we are blessed,” said Shulman. “My religion is nature. I’m truly a pagan.

“The Jewish people have produced some of the most elegant moments of humanity. We contribute to the humanities, the sciences, film and entertainment, cartoons, you name it. We’re not disintegrating, we’re becoming stronger because we continue to inscribe into the history of mankind certain elements which make for better lives for all people.”

For the last three years, 57-year-old Judy McKee, Shulman’s only child from his first marriage to his late wife, Emma, has been his business partner, in charge of dealing with the day-to-day minutiae of Shulman’s book deals and appearances. Shulman remarried in 1976. His second wife, Olga, died in 1999. He has a 25-year-old grandson from McKee.

Like the Jewish people, the tenacious Shulman does not intend to quit anytime soon.

“My life is full,” Shulman continued. “I’m blessed with the fact that after 66 years, I can go another 20 or 30 years. And I will.”

Julius Shulman will sign copies of Wolfgang Wagener’s book, “Raphael Soriano,” at Form Zero, 811 Traction Ave., in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 26 from 7-9 p.m. For information, call (213) 620-1820.

The Nachas of Books

Until recently, it seemed you could find Yiddish books only in obscure libraries or in the attic of the house of someone’s grandparents. But recently, the National Yiddish Book Center launched the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, an online bookstore that makes more than 12,000 out-of-print titles available for purchase over the Internet.

Each order is routed to a production facility in Pennsylvania, where a digital printer accesses the previously scanned pages and generates a new paperback copy within minutes. The price is $29 per book (center members pay less).

Offering 12,000 of the 18,000 to 20,000 titles that compose modern Yiddish literature, the digital library has turned Yiddish into the most in-print literature available, said Aaron Lansky, the center’s founder and president. Popular writers include I.L. Peretz and Sholem Asch.

When Lansky was a Jewish studies graduate student around 1980, most Yiddish books were out-of-print. Fearing that surviving tomes would soon be thrown out by a younger generation, he says he set out "to save the world’s Yiddish books before it was too late." Working from an unheated factory in Northhampton, Mass., Lansky made a public appeal for unwanted books and sent volunteers to collect them from abandoned buildings and old synagogues across the country. The center, which now has some 30,000 members, has since recovered more than 1.5 million books.

Its birth coincided with a trend to study Yiddish language and literature, which meant that by 1998, students and scholars were buying up the most important titles. Worse, nearly all the books had been printed on inexpensive paper and were physically deteriorating. The solution was digitizing the collection, a $3.5 million project that’s been funded in part by a $500,000 grant from Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation. It’s the only major publisher of Yiddish books today. "We’ve shown how new technology can be used to save an endangered literature and bring it back into print," Lansky said.

Access the library at

Hidden Stacks

Read any good Hebrew books lately?

If you live in the Valley — we’ll assume you read Hebrew — you’ll most likely have picked up the latest Ram Oren techno-thriller or Naomi Ragen frummie-potboiler at the recently opened Steimatzky bookstore on Ventura Boulevard near Corbin.

Another option is to make a quick run up the 101 to the Las Virgenes Public Library in Agoura Hills.

Here county library patrons can avail themselves of stacks upon stacks of vintage and hot-off-the-press Israeli novels, biographies, political and military accounts, journalistic memoirs, cookbooks, compact discs and videos. Moreover, the library has become a repository for one of the most extensive collections of Hebrew-language children’s books in Los Angeles, as the children of local Israeli émigrés grow out of them.

Nor does this trove stop with Hebrew literature. The Agoura library also houses one of the city’s most extensive collections of Holocaust literature, as well as a substantial number of books by Jewish writers and a Judaica collection.

According to Raya Sagi, the library’s manager and a decade-long resident of Agoura, the county provides some resources for the various ethnic and other specialized collections that have sprouted throughout the system. The Agoura library has used these funds to build up sizable collections of Chinese, Persian, Spanish, and Japanese material alongside the Jewish and Hebrew collections.

Sagi credits funding provided by the Friends of the Library and a book-donating Israeli community for the growth in the Hebrew and Jewish collections. But perhaps the greatest credit, Sagi says, is due to reference librarian Sondra Gorodinsky and library aide Edith Allweil, both of whom have developed guerrilla tactics for securing new titles and filling holes with titles that might otherwise have found their way to the Dumpster.

Gorodinski is a native English-speaker with an intense passion for Holocaust literature. She has found that interest in this searing and unparalleled event has not diminished but seems to grow each year. In response, Gorodinski has put out a systemwide APB asking for titles that might otherwise be cleared from library shelves. The result, Sagi says, is a comprehensive and eclectic collection that could easily vie with anything outside of academe or the institutional collections one might find at a Wiesenthal Center or Holocaust Museum.

Credit for building up the Israeli collection, meanwhile, goes to the Israel-born Allweil, who finds titles at lectures, in literary supplements, through Israeli bookstores and on trips to Israel. Allweil’s greatest pleasure is seeing parents of local Israelis come in and stumble on this hidden Hebrew treasure.

“They are older people,” she says, “and often they don’t have any English. Here they find a selection as formidable as anything they might find at a neighborhood library back home. I can’t recall how many times they’ve told us we saved their lives and sanity.”

For the Las Virgenes librarians, though, salvation of life and sanity will come at the end of the summer, when they vacate their old digs and move into a 17,500-square-foot facility in the new Agoura Hills Civic Center, in construction less than a mile westward. Here, collections now relegated to specific shelves may find their way into rooms of their own. Of course, as anyone who has built new space for books knows, shelves have a way of filling up quickly.

The Las Virgenes Library is still at 29130 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (818) 889-2278. Contributions are welcomed, and tax receipts are available.

Preemptive Strike Against Hate

One would think that a Barnes & Noble store would be the last place someone would be encouraged to close a book, yet that is exactly what Barnes & Noble Booksellers, along with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Scholastic Books, wants children to do.

Conceived by the three participants, Close the Book on Hate is the name of a month-long campaign to prevent hate crimes from occurring by eradicating the ignorance that inspires them. At the heart of this tolerance initiative is a new book, “Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice,” a manual designed to help adults teach children how to cope with and address racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Last week, the sponsors behind “Hate Hurts” officially launched the program with a reception at the Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

“We’re leaving this camp site a little cleaner than we left it,” said co-author Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann, who wrote the guide with Caryl Stern-LaRosa.

“Children hear anti-gay epithets up to 25 times a day,” said Lynette Sperber of Parents, Friends and Fami-lies of Lesbians and Gays, who reflected on her personal experi-ences raising a gay son to illustrate how hard it can be to counter societal stereotypes. “My son had to go through 23 years by himself, and he comes from a comforting, supportive home.”

According to the campaign’s proponents, more than 850 hate crimes were reported last year. Among the people working with ADL to pass more stringent anti-hate legislation is Alan Stepakoff, whose son was injured in last year’s North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting.

Stepakoff told The Journal that while his son has physically recovered, he still experiences post-traumatic stress. Trying to rationalize and explain the senseless crime to his child has been difficult.

“It’s something we really have not been able to do,” said Stepakoff, who believes that children must be taught that “hate isn’t the way to deal with differences and problems.”

At the press conference, Stepakoff provided an analogy to convey the power that a book can have on a young person’s mind. He spoke of a book he read as a child that explained how all people, regardless of race, possessed similar blood.

“It may have been a crude way of stating its message,” said Stepakoff, “but it’s something I’ve remembered for 40 years. We’re all the same on the inside.”

Grant Elementary School teacher Susan Friedman thought it was important to bring her fourth graders down for the kickoff, where each student received a free copy of the book.

“The book’s strategies will help teachers as well as parents,” says Friedman. “I haven’t dealt with anything directly, but I remind them daily to be respectful.”

Peter Willner, associate national director of the ADL, told The Journal that the concept for “Hate Hurts” came out of a breakfast meeting with ADL leader Abraham Foxman and Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio, held in the wake of the Columbine High School tragedy. They wanted to find a way of working together on a project that counter the alarming rise of hate crimes.

Beyond “Hate Hurts,” a pamphlet on “101 Ways to Com-bat Prejudice” will be given out with every book purchased at participating Barnes & Noble outlet through-out September as part of the Close the Book on Hate cam-paign.

Willner said that a syllabus of relevant reading – such as “Anne Frank Remembered” and “Bajo la Luna de Limon” (“Under the Lemon Moon”) – will also be distributed.

The ADL’s Western Region Director David Lehrer says he’s pleased that the campaign is off to a good start and promises that the ADL and Barnes & Noble will continue to find ways of uniting on the tolerance promotion front in the coming months.

Debra Williams, director of corporate communi-cations for Barnes & Noble, reports that “Hate Hurts” will be carried in 550 of the franchise’s stores.

“Children are the future,” says Williams, “and it is our hope to end racism by teaching them tolerance.”For more information on “Hate Hurts” and the Close the Book on Hurt campaign, call the Anti-Defamation League at (310) 446-8000. “Hate Hurts” is available for sale at Barnes & Noble stores and on its Web site, www.bn.com, as well as other retail and online bookstores.