Friday, April 25, 2008

The Jewish Hogwarts has Fallen: A Eulogy for the Klau Library

[The rare book room in the old Klau Library]

This entry I take a pause from my topical writing about Jewish esoteric and aboriginal traditions to indulge in a personal memory.

This past month I returned to my yeshiva, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the oldest Jewish seminary in the Americas. This campus was also home to the Klau Library, the largest Jewish library in the Americas. Alas, Klau (as I knew it) is no more. All I found on my visit was an I-beam skeleton. The building I loved was gone, part of a multi-million dollar renovation.

Now the old Klau was no gem, architecturally speaking. Though much of HUC was built in a 19th Century collegial style - all bricks, staircases, and crenellated roofs - the exterior of the Klau was a featureless modernist cube. But the interior, well, it was my Hogwarts. Claustrophobic, under lit stacks, creaky old-fashioned elevators. Tired, well-worn study carrels lining the walls. Little windowless research spaces with designations like the "Midrash room" and the "Cuneiform room." Klau not only had a mysterious rare book room, but it even had a second, secret library within a library - the Friedus catalog. The enlightened few students knew that even if a book was checked out from the main collection, if that book had been produced before 1969, there would likely be a forgotten copy available in the obsolete but still existent Friedus collection. Honestly, though I attended HUC well into the age of personal computers, it would have come as no surprise to find the Klau staff at high writing desks, diligently laboring over their quill pens and ink wells, or setting type on a press.

And the denizens of Klau! Not only my professors in their glorious array (Yes, I had my own Snape, Dumbleodore, Trelawny, and Lupin [a gentle instructor who occasionally morphed into flesh-eating werewolf - actually, I had a couple like that]). There were also the various librarians of elvish, gnomish, and goblin-esque temperaments, always helpful, but who also had the unsettling habit of sneaking up on you unawares; the bent, wizen old retired professors daily scribbling away on arcane tomes in neglected corners; there were even ghostly doctoral students who haunted the Klau, wrights who greeted us when we returned, year after year, for they refused to finish their degrees and leave, ever.

And now it's gone. In the next year, the new rabbinical students at HUC will have airy, well-lit spaces with WIFI and comfortable chairs. Of course, being the Internet age that it is, they will no doubt frequent the new friendly Klau far less than my generation did the confines of the forbidding old one. A unique place is gone. It makes me sad; a big place of my life exists now only in memory. Awful as it was, I will miss that creepy, ill-conceived, wonder-filled building.

At least HUC's own Hagrid is still alive and well. You know who you are.

Zal G'mor: To learn more about Jewish traditions of wizardry, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism (Partially researched at the Klau): http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050