The Sephardic Bibliophile of Brooklyn.

I’m a sucker for bookstore pieces, and Batya Ungar-Sargon wrote a good one for the Forward that begins:

On a nondescript street of brick row houses, nestled between an insurance office and a computer store, in an out of the way corner of Brooklyn known as Marine Park that is not on any subway lines, lies a small storefront. From the street, it’s impossible to see in — the glass windows are blocked by bookshelves, the glass door covered by a large red and white version of the Israeli flag. A small printed flyer is taped to the top of the door: “Mizrahi Bookstore: Over 60,000 Jewish Books in Stock.” A phone number is provided, and then: “Please knock and ring bell.”

It’s run by Yisrael Mizrachi, who wanted the piece to be about the books and not him: “The focus should be, people should be reading these books. People should know there’s a place they can read stuff which is interesting to read. Jews produced a lot of very good works.” But he’s an interesting guy, only 28 (“‘Such a young guy, and such old books,’ they say”), born in Brooklyn to a Sephardic family of Moroccan descent:

A lover of books for as long as he could remember, Mizrahi had been a buyer well before he began to sell, but shortly after he got married, he started to sell a few titles, and, shortly thereafter, Mizrahi Bookstore was born.

That was eight years ago, and he has in the meantime accumulated a stock of 100,000 books. […]

Mizrahi —who speaks English and Hebrew fluently and can read Ladino and Yiddish — knows where every single book is. Disturbing a book’s location has catastrophic effects on his ability to sell it. A sign beseeches customers: “We beg, we insist, we plead, we urge, whatever it takes: Please make sure every book gets back in the shelf it started from. We want to continue to serve you.” […]

He once got a call from a guy in New Jersey asking if Mizrahi wanted an Encyclopedia Judaica. Mizrahi asked if he had anything else, and the man told him he had just disposed of thousands of books. “But you didn’t want them,” the man said “They were old.” To add insult to injury, the man came from a prominent Zionist activist family, just the kind whose library might contain untold treasures. […]

He regularly finds books that aren’t recorded anywhere else. “There’s something fascinating about picking up a book no one has read for 50 years,” he mused. Twice he found his own great grandfather’s signature in a book.

If you like that, there’s plenty more good stuff at the link. If I were still living in the city, I’d shlep out to Marine Park to visit.


  1. Sounds like a terrific place. I’ll definitely shlep out there next time I’m in New York.

  2. What a resource for a Spanish reader who wants to read Ladino, too.

  3. So he’s of Sephardic ancestry and named “Mizrachi.” All of a sudden I see this issue is coming up every few days.

  4. gwenllian says

    Another common Sephardic surname is Ashkenazi.

  5. Sensible; it must reflect people whose ancestors were from Central or Eastern Europe but later settled among Sephardi Jews, and so were known as “ha-Ashkenaz”.

  6. Ashkenazi, not “ha-Ashkenaz”. Cf. Italians named Tedesco (of German origin), or Ashkenazi Jews named Frankel (of French origin).

Speak Your Mind