Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



The Final Chapter

David Damen, Antwerp

The Seletzki family of Antwerp has been selling seforim for seven decades. But a decision to replace the area’s private properties with commercial towers marks the end

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

 Mishpacha image

BACK PAGE As the shades are about to go down for the last time, Reb Michoel Seletzki looks back on the years, grateful that he was able to support his family with such a holy profession (photos: Daniel Binyamin and Mordechai Zev Schwamenfeld)

“S ’iz noch epes gebliben fun di Yiddishe plattes?” (Are there any phonograph records left?)

Reb Michoel Seletzki runs his fingers through his reddish-gray beard and points to the cartons stacked one on top of the other as he spreads his hands, as if to say, “If you’re interested in those old records, just dig around in those boxes to see if you find anything.”

Soon those boxed will go to a sheimos disposal site and a recycling factory — old machzorim in out-of-style leather bindings, Gemaras from the printing house of the widow and brothers Re’em, dusty siddurim from the Hebrew Publishing Company, greeting cards from the 1970s that have yellowed from standing in the window for so many years. Meanwhile, the day before Seletzki Seforim — Antwerp’s oldest Jewish bookstore — closes down following a municipal decision to replace the area’s private properties with commercial high-rise buildings, people are here scavenging for some usable sefer, silver items that might be a bit bent out of shape, the top part of a forgotten esrog box or a mismatched coaster for a becher.

As people come to find bargains, they can’t help notice the peeling walls behind the old shelving that has finally been emptied. Now the mystery has been resolved: Yes, the walls in Seletzki’s seforim store stand on their own, and not, as some might have thought, because they were leaning on the seforim.

Basement Business

For the last 71 years, the Seletzki family has been selling seforim. Over the years, as the community grew, so did the number of seforim and Judaica stores, but locals and tourists alike continued to stream to the rickety old storefront in order to feel the authenticity of an old-time seforim gesheft. The organized chaos, the charming mess, the groaning laden shelves towering to the ceiling at some precarious angles, only added to the experience that no longer existed among the modern boutique stores that have become the new style for Judaica establishments.

Reb Nosson Seletzki was a lone Yid from Vilna who lost his wife and four children in the Holocaust. Before the war, he was a ben bayis at the home of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, the rav of the city, and at one point, he learned in the Mir under Rav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel.

The organized chaos, the charming mess, the groaning laden shelves towering to the ceiling at some precarious angles, only added to the experience that no longer existed among the modern boutique stores that have become the new style for Judaica establishments.

Rav Finkel, the rosh yeshivah of Mir, once came to Antwerp to raise money for the yeshivah that had been newly reopened in Jerusalem,” says Nosson Seletzki’s son Reb Michoel. “The town’s Jews gathered at the Bourse, and the Rosh Yeshivah passionately described the yeshivah that had been active in Mir before the war. ‘I’m sure none of you were there,’ he added. Suddenly, my father stood up in the crowd and announced, ‘I learned in the Mir, and I even remember the Rosh Yeshivah’s shiur.’ And my father began to repeat the shiur word for word. Rav Eliezer Yehduah was extremely moved — he stepped off the stage, came over to my father, and hugged and kissed him. ‘If I had come here just to hear this — that would have been enough,’ he said to the surprised crowd.”

After the war, Reb Nosson made his way to Antwerp and found temporary refuge at the home of a goodhearted Jew named Reb Yisrael Kornfeld. One day, a non-Jew with a truck filled with seforim pulled up in front of the Kornfeld home. He knocked on the door and offered the Kornfelds the entire contents of the truck for the sum of five thousand francs. It was no small sum, but it was still attractive enough to be able to earn something on it. Reb Yisrael offered the deal to Reb Nosson, and the basement of the Kornfeld home suddenly became an improvised seforim store. People would come to purchase a sefer, and Reb Nosson would go down to the basement to retrieve it and bring it up to the customer waiting in the street. Within the collection there were definitely old seforim that could have been collector’s items, but back then anyone who was buying a sefer really intended to use it. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 667)

Related Stories

Redemption Song

Refoel Pride

Meilech Kohn’s life might have taken a two-decade detour, but that hasn’t kept his four recently rel...

31 Hours and a Lifetime of Shabbos

Aryeh Ehrlich

The Kretchnifer Rebbe of Rechovot has spent the last five decades living his legacy of acceptance in...

His Own Man

Yisroel Besser

Why was Rav Zalman Levine — a disciple of European roshei yeshivah, and the only son of the “Malach”...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"