A community library’s sad last chapter

A community library’s sad last chapter

Maintenance workers began dismantling shelves in the Waldor Library in June. 
Maintenance workers began dismantling shelves in the Waldor Library in June. 

The decision to close the Waldor Memorial Library, a collection of Jewish books and video cassettes that ranged in breadth from bound copies of the Torah and Talmud to the works of Saul Bellow and Anita Diamant, was not made without deep deliberations and tinges of sadness.

The library was established on the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany in 1992 with a gift in memory of his parents and brother by local philanthropist Jerry Waldor and his wife Rita. It included over 22,000 volumes, periodicals, a children’s room, and an electronic catalogue.

“From a community standpoint we would have loved to have had the library there, but it was really underused,” said Samuel Pepper, a West Orange resident and treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

“The cost of operating the library and maintaining the space was not cheap. It is something we needed to do in terms of the utilization of the building, and we are going to undertake a long-term view of the utilization of the building and the campus,” Pepper added in a Sept. 5 phone interview. 

When the private Winston Preparatory School came looking for space on the Aidekman campus, federation leaders “spoke to the Waldor family, told them what we were proposing, and they approved of the change,” said Howard Rabner, the federation’s CFO/COO. “We did not want to put an end to the Waldor Library, and we consulted with the family before we did anything.”

The first floor of the building will be renamed the Waldor Education Wing.

Rita Waldor of South Orange declined to comment for this article; Jerry Waldor died in 2005.

Once the decision was made to dismantle the library, “we offered the books throughout the community to synagogues, day schools, agencies, and anyone else who was interested in continuing to use the books,” said Rabner.

Holocaust-related works are being distributed to the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest and other Shoa education programs.

Yiddish-language texts have been donated to Yiddish-centered libraries. Others are being given to Rutgers Hillel and the Morris County Library in Whippany.

Religious works that do not find a home are being stored on shelves in a federation conference room while “we are arranging burial for them” according to Jewish law, said Rabner.

Still, hundreds, if not thousands, of volumes were placed during the summer on large tables and bookshelves in the Aidekman campus atrium. Visitors were invited to take the books for free. 

The library was staffed by professional librarians until 2007, when it was closed temporarily and the federation worked with some of its agencies to find ways to run the library at a lower cost. 

Founding librarian and director of library services Bracha Weisbarth retired in 2005 after 12 years of service and moved to Israel. Asked for her reaction to the library’s closing, she wrote in an e-mail to NJJN, “I am so very sad about the dismantling of the Waldor Library. After all, we are the ‘am hasefer’— the people of the book. But there are worse things to cry about. We in Israel know it only too well.”

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