Wednesday, April 11, 2012

That Which Unites Us

You may have noticed my absence last week. I certainly noticed. It has been months since I spent an entire week away from writing. And I missed it. Deeply. My brain was filled with thoughts just dying to get out. And I could hardly wait to get to a computer to put those thoughts on paper.

As I mentioned on Monday, I spent last week on an amazing vacation in Israel. While I was there I thought about the kind of post I would write when I got back. Would it be about the beauty of the country?  It's rich history? The time spent with extended family? Our daily activities? My very first experience with an Israeli wedding? While all of those things are interesting (and feel free to ask me about any of them), none of them seemed like quite the right topic. I knew it would come to me eventually. And this past Thursday, it did.

We spent most of our vacation on the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv, but on Thursday, we took a day trip to Jerusalem. Of course we went to the Kotel, the Western Wall. And we spent some time walking around the ever popular Ben Yehuda Street. But the inspiration for this post was about our very first stop.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Husband D told me he knew of a great place. A place we had to go. A place he discovered and frequented during his semester abroad at Hebrew University. A place he loved. A place I would love. Proving yet again just how well he knows me, ten minutes later he led me in here:


It was a small bookstore that doubled as a cafe. There were English books and Hebrew books. And we sat among those books as we drank coffee and looked out onto the hills of Jerusalem. There were posters for book signings. Fliers for readings. And a few books of nearly every genre. Some book lovers like me browsed the shelves for their heart's desire and sat at small tables while devouring their selections. I felt an instant kinship with the people sharing the cafe with us. We speak different languages. Live in different countries. Undoubtedly have different hopes and dreams. But when surrounded by books, none of that seemed to matter. 

It's hard to describe the comfort that this revelation brought to me. Here I sat, thousands of miles from my home. Thousands of miles from my own books (although, several of those romance novels accompanied me on vacation). But still, as always, surrounded by books. I even managed to spot a romance novel in the stacks. That which unites us is certainly greater than that which divides us. 

After that day, wherever we went, I looked around for a bookstore. And I found them. Tons of them. Because no matter where you are in the world, there are people who love to read. Just like me. On the streets of Tel Aviv, I stumbled across this used bookstore. It could have been any bookstore, in any city, anywhere in the world. But the scene is the same. Shelves sagging under the weight of books. Hundreds of them. All different genres. All different languages. Waiting to be read:

Frequent readers will know that used bookstores occupy a very special place in my heart. Finding one while meandering through a foreign city made me feel instantly at home. The country might have been different, but the setting was comfortably familiar.

My favorite of my Israeli bookstore finds was one that we happened upon in a Tel Aviv Mall:

I discovered that, like Barnes and Noble in America, this is a bookstore chain with branches all across Israel. The most well-known bookstore in the country. Intrigued, I walked in to take a look. And there, right in the front of the store, I made this happy discovery:

A Nora Roberts section. In the middle of a shelf of romance novels. In Israel. Eagle eyed readers will even spot one of my most favorite Nora's of all time. Happy Ever After. I very nearly bought it, despite already owning a copy of the book. But cooler heads prevailed.

I made my way to the back of the store where the Hebrew books were located. There was a girl there, about my age, stocking the shelves. I asked her in Hebrew whether the store carried copies of Nora Roberts' books translated into Hebrew. I thought that might be a fun addition to my collection. And her face simply lit up. In English she said to me, "of course we do. Nora Roberts is my favorite." And my face lit up in turn. "Mine too." Here, in a bookstore in Tel Aviv, was my kindred spirit. My soul-sister if you will. Our conversation turned to our favorite Nora's. She told me she had never read the Brides Quartet. I told her that they absolutely must be next on her list. She told me Nora Roberts is extremely popular in Israel. Women come in all day long for her books. That which unites us indeed.

She led me over to the Nora Roberts Hebrew section. Alas, they were completely sold out of her Hebrew volumes, so I don't have a picture of those. After a few more minutes of browsing, I said goodbye to my new friend, and left the store a happy, and more enlightened, romance novel-lover.

I am back in America now. Happily reunited with my shelves full of books. But I discovered something on this trip. Something I may have already understood but never addressed. That I am endlessly proud to offer, in this small way, my voice to the world. To share my words. To write my stories. Because now I understand a few things. The power of written words. That books unite. That the written word is ubiquitous. The language might be different, and the setting unfamiliar, but when there are books around, what is foreign becomes familiar and strangers become friends.

I told that girl in the bookstore that I write. That I have a blog. That I have been sharing my thoughts and my words. About books. About reading. About life. I hope she pays a visit. And I hope she tells her friends. So that we can unite, readers one and all. And talk about what makes us the same, rather than what makes us different. Because while our differences may be significant, our similarities are simply divine.

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