The Story of a Library in Beit Shemesh

Posted: 5/21/2006 6:33:00 PM
Author: Hillel Fendel
Source: - 35k

The Story of a Library in Beit Shemesh
by Hillel Fendel

A community children's library in Beit Shemesh, where volunteers work with U.S., Ethiopian, Russian and other immigrants alongside native Israelis, now faces its next challenge: Expansion.

The Benjamin Children’s Library, located in the fast-growing Givat Sharett neighborhood, serves thousands of children from all segments of the local population - which means a potpourri of languages and backgrounds.

"When we first moved in to our present quarters eight years ago," Library Director and founder Tami Kruger told IsraelNationalRadio, "we thought the place was gigantic; we felt like we were swimming in it. But today, we're popping at the seams, both in terms of books and the amount of people who use it. We're therefore hoping to grow, in both space and in the hours that we're open."

Run by a non-profit organization, the library is "small by American standards," Tami said, "but very active. There are always between 50-100 children at a time, taking out books, using the computers, doing puppet theater, being helped in various ways, etc."

"What we've tried to do," she said, "is to make it as friendly of a place as it can be - which is a new concept here, but it's catching on in other libraries. It's not necessarily very quiet, and some people are not thrilled with that, but we want the children to have a good time. When we expand, we plan to have separate areas for younger children and for quiet readers."

The Kruger family started the library, which is located in the Meyerhoff Community Center, in order to perpetuate the memory of their four-year-old son Benjamin in a child-friendly way. "The Meyerhoffs are big philanthropists from Baltimore," Ms. Kruger said, "and they have provided the library with a grant so that we may realize our dream of expansion. However, it is a challenge grant, which means that we have to raise matching funds by the end of the year."

She therefore calls on those who are interested in promoting literacy and the library's other goals to offer their help. "We need volunteers, and books are often provided us, but at the same time we could use some dollars and cents."

"Many Western immigrants have come to Israel with children who already know how to read in English," says Tami, "and they feel at home when they can continue their love of reading. On the other end of the spectrum, there are children of Ethiopian families who are illiterate and need help in bridging the gap, and we have volunteers who help them."

IsraelNationalRadio host Yishai Fleisher emphasized the national/historic significance of the library. "It sounds like a great place to smooth the transition for the Ingathering of the Exiles," he said, "where people can have feel at home when they first arrive, and get used to meeting other new and old Israelis in a mutually comfortable environment."

Board member Shifra Friedman, one of the many Beit Shemesh residents who volunteer their time and efforts on behalf of the Benjamin Library, emphasizes the "wonderful contribution the Anglo community here is making towards helping those immigrants who are even newer to succeed here." She notes that the library provides complimentary or subsidized memberships to many of the children.

And it's not only children. "Even parents often need help," Tami said, "because they want to read to their children, and need help in choosing books in Hebrew." Teachers, as well, use the library's services in planning their lessons, finding material, and meeting with the children.

The library's website states that it is a "community gathering place run by and for the community by a small professional staff and an army of dedicated volunteers... The library offers a range of resources to members and walk-in visitors, including collections of Hebrew, English and Russian books, computers, cassette and videotapes, a toddler corner and a homework/reference room. The library sponsors informal book-based programming such as story hours, puppet-theater, summer reading programs, workshops in paper and bookmaking, and a storybook carnival."

For more information on library activities, volunteering, and donating, see or write to