• Books for sale | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

People of the Book

Tal Hartuv - 20 September 2022

Right on the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, is Pomeranz, the most frequented English book shop in Israel. Desperate for decent bookstores selling English volumes, hundreds of Anglo Israelis come from all over the country to the shop every month. The astonishing poky book store has the largest selection of Jewish-themed books under one roof in the world.

Both clients and time have a knack of getting lost in the 2-story shop whose shelves are piled with books from floor to ceiling. There are even some – so rumour has it – who will mark aside a whole day in their diaries to browse through the thousands of volumes.

No surprise then, that when the shop’s founder, 68-year-old Michael Pomeranz, passed away a few weeks ago, thousands mourned – yet gave thanks for his life.

“When Michael Pomeranz arrived in Israel, he got on a bus and immediately felt as if he had come home”

It was nearly forty years ago when American-born Michael hopped on a plane to Israel after visiting Poland to pay homage to his family murdered in the Holocaust. When he arrived in Israel, he got on a bus and immediately felt as if he had come home.

In the USA he had worked as an undercover narcotics officer followed by several years in the fire brigade, where he even won a gold medal in the fireman’s Olympics for powerlifting. It was at an international gathering of second-generation Holocaust survivors in the USA that his Judaism took a turn. He received an Artscroll Bible as a present and began studying. It wasn’t long before he found himself to be the president of a synagogue which meant he had to deliver a sermon on a regular basis. This meant more study. Michael was hooked at the wonders of Jewish history. Michael knew it was time to come home.

Upon making aliya with his family, he soon saw that the books for the then small Anglo-Jewish Israeli community were mostly for the ultra-Orthodox. Wanting to supply books for every Jew, no matter their denomination or affiliation with a synagogue, he and his wife took a risk. They emptied their pockets, rented a small basement and purchased a few hundred books that would be suitable for a wider audience. At night time, when not manning the shop, he hung flyers up in apartment buildings in areas where the English-speakers lived to advertise the shop. He ran his shop with dedication and vision, always looking to make accessible books about the likes of Zionism, the Bible and spirituality. The business grew so fast that they soon had to find larger premises.

“Pomeranz was  a meeting place, a place to come and ask the wise man for guidance and advice”

But Pomeranz was known to the locals as much more than a business or bookshop. It was a meeting place, a place to come and ask the wise man for guidance and advice. It was also a place of outreach to Jews who had no real connection with their Jewish heritage. Many a time did a stranger walk in to the shop and end up having a Shabbat meal with Michael and his family. Although Michael passed away recently, the “spirit” of the man remains between the cover of every book that he sold.

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