Archive for Tales from the Library

The Pleasures of Meeting the Sachs Family

Some stories are better told from the end. Being an avid reader of stories, I know that the good ones reveal what you had hoped for as they unfold: a great plot, fascinating characters, and amazing chapters that make up the book of life as they take you on the journey back in time.

Here is “the end” of this story: I am standing in a warehouse in Panorama City surrounded by 18,000 books neatly packed in boxes. This is a gift from the estate of the late Elliot Sachs of Santa Barbara, generously donated to the Frances-Henry Library by the executrix, Ms. Doris Sturgess, through the mediation of a few good people (another amazing story to be told another time).

About a month before my first “visit” of what is now the largest gift this library has ever received, I knew nothing about Elliot Sachs or his family, and when the initial contact was made, I did what every cautious librarian would do: I researched the subject.

The Anti-Semites ... a playIn addition to the fact that he was a professor of Political Science in the UC system, I was told by Ms. Sturgess that his father was a rabbi in Santa Monica, having moved there in the early 50s from Toronto, Canada. My initial research revealed a family saga fit to be “treated” and produced as a mini-series in this tinsel-town of ours: a young immigrant from Lithuania, Samuel Sachs, arriving in New York at the beginning of the 20th century, possibly with his parents, with a good probability that the father, Yehudah, was a rabbi in Lithuania. Samuel is ordained by JTS in 1916, and after receiving his B.A. from Columbia University, he is invited in 1926 by congregation Goel Tzedek in Toronto to serve as their rabbi. Somewhere on this time-line he marries Florence [later “find”  her cookbook and recipes], and they have two children. One of them, Elliot-Elijah, is born in 1933 [later “find”: Bar Mitzva Book of the Jewish National Fund, 1946]. After twenty years of service and social justice activism [later “find”: hundreds of pamphlets on issues of Labor relations, Zionism, Pioneers in the Land of Israel, Antisemitism, Communism, Socialism, Nazism, Jewish Philanthropy], they move to Santa Monica where Rabbi Sachs serves as the rabbi of Mishkan Tefilah (1952-1964).  Elliot studies Political Science and begins teaching in the UC system… and by now I am hooked…

I tell Ms. Sturgess that I need to come and see the collection before I make a decision, but my hunch tells me that there is a very good chance that the collection encompasses the lives of 3 Jewish scholars.

Picture Stories from the Bible.One week later I am standing in the middle of a townhouse in Santa Barbara that is empty, except for book shelves everywhere; entrance, hallway, kitchen, bedrooms, and a whole second floor that is designated as a library. Wall to wall book cases, hundreds of books meticulously protected by wrapped dust jackets, and in the middle of the room – about a hundred boxes ready to go. I ask for permission, and once given, I start pulling out books at random. I glimpse title pages of books dating back to the 1920 & 1930s from Great Britain, European imprints of early Christianity scholarship, an occasional commentary in Hebrew, published in Europe in the 19th century. The “kid in the candy store” feeling intensifies…Ms. Sturgess mentions a guesthouse in the front. I open the door and the studio apartment is filled with more boxes…I’m sold!

Fast forward: It is now the end of April, the first month of my Sabbatical leave. Assisted by my host’s, Eric Klein, staff, and by my old friend Liz, we have managed to unpack half of the collection. My initial hunch is proving to be right: I have scanned, researched and processed books and pamphlets that belonged to three generations of this family. More than the large number of items we do not own that will be entered into our collection, I am touched and overwhelmed by the care given to them; from rare imprints dealing with the Spanish Inquisition to Responsa literature published in Eastern Europe, from thinly published warnings against the meaning and the rise of Nazism in Germany AND in the USA, to texts of radio broadcasts urging the British government to honor its Balfour Declaration. From fund-raising programs for Goel Tzedek Memorial Park, to a Hebrew primer for children, published in 1945 and using a young boy’s description of the war from inside the Warsaw Ghetto as a vocabulary teaching tool.

For my own “professional development” I have learned that books in Hebrew were published in Johannesburg in the 1850s; that a “Pro-Palestinian Federation of America”, whose members were Christian clergy and academics, advocated on behalf of Jews in Europe in the late 1930s and against Anti-Jewish propaganda; that a small anarchist-atheist publishing house, the Haldeman-Julius Company of Girard, Texas, was publishing Big Blue Books and Little Red Books that were affordable to all and promoted social justice.( and

Balfour Declaration ... radio broadcastThere is really no defined or planned “ending” to this story. I have 400 more boxes of books to unpack and more to learn about the Sachs family. The Library staff is busy cataloging, processing and conserving these new additions to our collection. We are planning an event that will recognize the Sachs gift and the people that helped to bring it about during the upcoming Jewish Book Month, so stay tuned.

And, if you are curious about the items from this gift that were designated “Special” or “Rare”, you can do a keyword search for “sachs collection”. And for more pictures, go to our Facebook page.





Salomon Plessner’s First Publication

Salomon Plessner (1797-1883), an outstanding Orthodox Jewish preacher in 19th century Germany, is also remembered for his translation of the entire Apocrypha into Hebrew, which appeared in Berlin in 1833.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (1907),

“At the age of seventeen Plessner began to study [Naphthali Herz] Wessely’s [partial] Hebrew translation of the Apocrypha, resolving to continue the translation himself. He indeed published at Breslau in 1819 his Hebrew translation of the Apocryphal additions to the Book of Esther, under the title “Hosafah li-Megillat Ester,” with a literary-historical introduction.”

Yet, strange to say, no copy of this 1819 publication was to be found either at or in the larger OCLC data-base.

That is, until yesterday, when I found a copy on our stacks, entering it today into OCLC.

Given the relative rarity of the item, it would be good to know its provenance. In the upper left-hand corner one can see the autograph of “M Brann.”

Brann (1849-1920) was a major player in the 19th century Wissenschaft des Judenthums “school” of scholarship. Based in Breslau at the Jüdisch-theologisches Seminar in Breslau, where he taught history, he also authored and edited scores of books and articles, as well as serving as editor in chief of the prestigious Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums from 1892 until 1919.

After his death, his library was put up for sale. The two major bidders were Jews’ College in London and Stephen S. Wise, who desired it to serve as a major basis for the library of the Jewish Institute of Religion, which he was founding.

Wise won, and the Jewish Chronicle published an editorial in which decried the loss to London and European Jewry.

And as they say, “ … the rest is history.”

Is Jozefów Close to Chelm?

Simply stated, the answer is no.

Jozefów was a hamlet south of Warsaw in the 19th century that has all but been swallowed up by today’s metropolitan Warsaw. (It is only about 15 km. from downtown Warsaw.)

Chelm, on the other hand, is quite a distance to the east and situated today within the borders of Ukraine.

Chelm is famous, of course, in Jewish folklore for its “wise men,” whose solutions to problems challenge logic except when viewed through the lens of “pilpul.”

Why raise such a question?

Before giving an answer, I need to back up a bit. It was not uncommon in Eastern Europe for a Hebrew book to have its title also given in a transcription into the “vernacular” of the majority culture, i.e. Russian (Cyrillic) or Polish (Latin). (This generally was a requirement of local censors.)  Moreover, such transliterations often preserved the Hebrew pronunciation peculiar to the locale.

For example, in Lemberg (present-day L’viv, Ukraine), in 1892 a work on Talmudic hermeneutics by Joseph Engel was published whose title was אתוון דאורייתא that we today transliterate as: Atvan de-Oraita. Yet clearly on the page in Latin characters we read: Aswon deorajsu.

Another example: In Jozefów in 1826, an edition of Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s La-yesharim tehilah appeared, and on the title-page it also stated in Latin characters: Laieszurym tehyłu. As bizarre as it may look to (some of) us today, this fairly replicated the Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation of central Poland in the 19th century.

In Jozefów in 1835, however, another book by Moses Chaim Luzzatto was published, Mesilat Yesharim. And on the title-page one finds the following gibberish:  MYRUZSJ SEŁYSM.

Or is it gibberish? Or perhaps the type-setter was from Chelm? Or was he ignorant of the fact that Polish is written left-to-right- rather than right-to-left?

For if one reverses the letters, one finds: MSYŁES JSZURYM a perfectly rendering of M’siles yeshorim, as Hebrew was pronounced at that time and in that place.

Such “slip-ups” appear not to have happened often, so when I came across this, it took moment to figure it out.