Maryland rabbi visits Pittsburgh, collects books for infant Jewish community
The universe is almost unnervingly in sync for Rabbi Howard Gorin.
On Jan. 1, the very day Gorin, the rabbi of Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville, Md., was holding a book sale at his synagogue in an attempt to divest himself of his book relocation sideline, he was e-mailed a link to an article published by The Chronicle about a surplus of Jewish books at the Jefferson Hills Public Library.
Heeding the call to pick up the books, which otherwise would have been destroyed, the volunteer book broker planned a trip to Pittsburgh.
On Wednesday, March 17, the day he was headed to Pittsburgh to pick up the books, he received another timely e-mail — this one from India.
A faculty member of an Indian university wrote that he was trying to establish a Jewish studies library and is in need of books.
“I guess I’m the go-to guy,” Gorin said.
Navras Jaat Aafreedi, a research/ faculty associate in International Relations at the Gautam Buddha University in Gautam Buddha Nagar, a satellite town of the National Capital Region of Delhi, had read articles about Gorin sending books to emerging Jewish communities in Africa. He asked Gorin if he might be able to ship some Jewish books to India to help start the library as he crafts the first university level course on Jewish history and culture to be taught in South Asia.
Talk about beshert.
Gorin has been collecting and relocating Jewish books since 2004, and has shipped two 40-foot containers of books and other items to fledgling Jewish communities in Nigeria.
He has been devoted to helping the Jewish communities of Africa for years, beginning with his first trip there in 2002, when he led a Bet Din to convert the Ugandan Abayudaya community. He has visited Nigeria three times, and is known to the Nigerian Jews as one of their chief rabbis.
His trip to Pittsburgh last week was fruitful. He headed back to Rockville with more than 500 books, ranging from Jewish history and literature to English translations of Rashi’s commentary on Torah.
While most of the books came from the Jefferson Hills library, many also came from the libraries of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, and Adat Shalom, in the Fox Chapel area.
Gorin has become a bit of an expert in placing books, having learned where different types of books will be best used.
Not all the books will go overseas. In fact, some of the books Gorin found will actually stay in Pittsburgh.
“I took about 150 books [from the Jefferson Hills Library] to a lady at the Squirrel Hill library for their book sale,” he said. “I thought they would sell there.”
Gorin will send books he found here regarding Jewish rituals and customs to Nigeria, where the communities are embracing Judaism for the first time.
“The Nigerians want to learn how to be Jewish,” Gorin said. “They want to know things like which foot do you use to take the first step into the synagogue. They want the Zohar. It fits into their folk beliefs.”
And they are not picky about the condition of the books they receive.
In contrast, those wanting Jewish books in India are studying Judaism, but are not Jewish.
“India is a developed country,” Gorin said. “They are more sophisticated [than the Nigerians]. They require a better quality book.”
Gorin plans to contact the Jewish Publication Society, a nonprofit publisher of Jewish books, to supply the Indian university with some new Jewish books.
Before heading back to Maryland, Gorin presented a slide show to fifth- and sixth-grade Hebrew school students as a “thank you” to Beth El for its contribution. The slides depicted Jewish life in Uganda and Nigeria.
Showing the rapt children a photograph of beaming Nigerian Jews in their synagogue with the thatched roof and hand-drawn Mogen Davids on the wall, Gorin explained, “They don’t have resources, but they do have spirit.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)