Turning a Page in Downtown Jerusalem

Asked to characterize her bookshop's final chapter, Hava Slutzky pauses. For 28 years, she has owned Beit Hillel, in downtown Jerusalem, a store that over the years has become an urban institution. Now, at the age of 79, she's about to close up shop for good.

"The end is a happy one, but at the same time sad," she finally says. "I loved this shop and I've always wanted to sell books. But nature is unforgiving. You get old, you start feeling not so well."

The details of Slutzky's life are impressive. As a young girl, she worked at a German munitions factory near the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, in Poland. "I've worked ever since I can remember," she says. "The end of this month will be the first day that I will have no work left."

A veil of sorrow hung over the event, which was organized by Slutzky's neighbors on Hillel Street, at the Museum of Italian Jewish Art yesterday. The poets, philosophers and other devout customers who frequent Beit Hillel also walked with Slutzky across the street to the shop for a fairwell salute.

Literary critic Ariel Hirschfeld, who spoke at the event, which was attended by some 100 people, lamented the passing of an age "when bookshops had proper owners, who were measured by their intimate familiarity not only with the clientele, but also with the books they were selling."

Art historian and curator Gideon Efrat said that the shop's closing is "a painful turning of a page for the center of Jerusalem." He said that the area was undergoing a process of "hoodlumization" and "Tehranization." Efrat, like other speakers at the event, condemned the "rapturous ways" of book chain stores, which serve to make the love of books "as flat as a best-seller list."

Slutzky herself said that the chain stores did have a part in the shop's closure.

"They made bookselling an unpleasant experience," she said adding: "I'm not sure that shops like ours can't survive in spite of all this. After all, people kept coming to our shop."

Since her husband, Moshe, passed away in 1990, Slutzky has run the institution that was so dear to the people who converged there for the event.

She focused on non-fiction and philosophy, politics and plays. She also kept a rich variety of children's books and literature.

Three weeks before closure, the display window of Beit Hillel showcases the new Harry Potter alongside Hebrew translations of the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Passersby can also examine the cover of a new book on the 19th-century Hebrew-language Polish newspaper Hatzfira, and another about Jewish legal thinkers from Provence.

Though many in Jerusalem lament the loss of such an establishment, Slutzky - who will be moving to a sheltered-housing project in Tel Aviv - says she feels relieved in certain respects.

"I'll have more freedom now. I can go on trips and I'll have more time for reading," she says. "I've missed a couple. You know, I still have to read Bulgakov's 'Master and Margarita'!"