The 900 square-foot Detroit Jewish Library contains a growing collection of almost 4,000 brand-new books.
Oak Park has a new place for Detroit’s entire Jewish community to curl up with a book and a mask, or to borrow a few reads to enjoy from the social distance of one’s home.
Realizing the need for a library that caters not only to Oak Park’s Orthodox Jewish population but to any local Jewish person in the area seeking knowledge and community, Rabbi Ari Kostelitz of Congregation Dovid ben Nuchim opened the library to instill a love of reading and Jewish learning for all Jews.
“We believe in educating children to be proud of their Jewish background and history and a lot of that can happen through books,” Kostelitz said.
“In today’s world, kids are so in tune with technology, but not enough are reading books. Creating this library has been a lot of work, but when we opened and saw kids sitting on the new colorful furniture with an open book, it was all worth it. Anyone who wants a Torah education is welcome to come in and borrow a book.”
On Feb. 13, the Detroit Jewish Library, located inside the Dovid ben Nuchim building, 14800 W. Lincoln, opened to nearly 500 people in its first hours of operation, with some coming back later in the week to check out even more books. Due to COVID precautions, only 10 patrons at a time entered to browse the shelves and wore masks throughout their visit. As visitors — mostly mothers with children — waited their turn, they kept warm and socially distant in the synagogue’s spacious banquet hall.
The 900 square-foot Detroit Jewish Library contains a growing collection of almost 4,000 brand-new books. The project cost $200,000 and was made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor. The enticing colorful interior with cozy shelves and sitting areas is designed to be a welcoming space for children, but the library also features adult books from topics that range from Torah commentary to history to cookbooks to inspirational self-help books with an Orthodox twist. Expecting that the books will get a lot of love and use, all have been carefully double bound for durability.
The library is open three days per week: Sunday 1:30-4 p.m., Tuesday 5:30-7 p.m. and Friday 1:30-2:45 p.m. Families pay an annual membership fee of $35 to join and can take out two books per family member per visit. Books can be loaned for a week with an opportunity to renew for an additional week over the phone. Patrons receive their own library card with a barcode and patron number just as they would from a public library.
“The number of people who visited the library on our first day shows there is a great need to have a library where traditional Jews can bring their children to take out appropriate books that reflect a traditional way of life,” Kostelitz said. “While our collection is geared toward traditional Judaism, anyone can come and visit the library.”
Ita Leah Cohen is one of the librarians who has been working on the project. For nearly five months, she has put her computer and accounting skills to use building the collection, barcoding the books, entering them into the library’s database and organizing them on the shelves.
“When Rabbi Kostelitz has a vision, it happens yesterday,” Cohen said.
For 15 years, she and her husband, Rabbi Boruch Cohen, lived in Birmingham where they ran from their home the Birmingham Jewish Connection, a Jewish outreach center, and where he was a pulpit rabbi for the Birmingham Bloomfield Chai Center. During that last year, they rented a space in Birmingham and created another Jewish outreach center, 36 Mystics, that held a small Judaica gift shop and cafe. When 36 Mystics closed, they moved to Oak Park shortly before the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 to live closer to their grown children and grandchildren and were immediately embraced by the close-knit Jewish community.
“From the moment this library opened, all you hear are expressions of appreciation that it’s here,” she said.
Hy Safran, who lives in the area, said the library’s opening shows the vibrancy and growth of the community.
“I was blown away at the beauty of the vibrant colors, which makes it a very happy and positive space,” said Safran, director of philanthropy for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. A friend of the Kostelitz family, he said that he has taken out books on Jewish history and the origins of Jewish holidays.
Noting that his last name is Hebrew for librarian, Safran said he is a descendant of book binders and printers. The library at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield was named for his grandparents Leah & Hyman Safran. He said he has vivid childhood memories of spending time there as well as at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham.
“On the day the Detroit Jewish Library opened, there was such a charge of positive energy in the air, and kids were eager and happy to get their own library cards. This, to me, is one more example of just why Detroit has the greatest Jewish community in the world,” he said.
Legacy of Reading
Also visiting the library on opening day with two of her sons, ages 7 and 11, was Julie Hauser of Oak Park. Hauser’s kids were excited to get their own library cards and have already visited the library a few times to borrow Jewish comic books and graphic novels that cover everything from Midrash to history.
Hauser, who has authored one book about Jewish mothers around the world and three children’s books — two of them included in the library’s collection — said this newest library is part of a legacy of Jewish libraries in Detroit’s Jewish community.
“It is great that the Jewish library tradition is continuing here in Oak Park,” said Hauser, who has five children. “My husband and I and our children love to borrow books. We are always striving to learn and grow through reading.”
For more information about the Detroit Jewish Library, call (248) 794-7372.