As an author and avid reader, I am a complete supporter of local libraries and book stores. Fortunately for me, I have a hidden gem nearby in Jacksonville, Florida. With about 16,000 books, the Wurn Family Library located at Congregation Ahavath Chesed is home to the largest synagogue library in the Southeast!
“We are open to all synagogues and the entire Jewish community,” said former Head Librarian Hilda Gelfman. She explained that they have been a resource for churches, students, Bible study groups and others, as well as synagogues and the Jewish community of Jacksonville itself. Many have come to utilize the library’s extensive Holocaust collection which is one of the largest in the Southeast.
A unique feature of the Wurn Family Library is its sizable selection of fiction books. “Most synagogue libraries don’t include much fiction,” explained current Head Librarian, Virginia Singer. “Our books are chosen based on Jewish content and/or authors.” Authors available at the Wurn Family Library include Daniel Silva, Jonathon Kellerman, Naomi Reagan, Orson Scott Card, as well as Israeli and classical authors such as Isaac Beshevis Singer and Amos Oz.
Hilda’s Garden features 4000 children’s books that include classics to the latest releases. It is a good place to get stories for Shabbat and the holidays, bedtime reading and for educational purposes.
Should a book be of interest to you, let them know and they’ll likely purchase it. “If one person reads a book, it is worth getting,” Singer said.
While run like any other professional library according to the guidelines of the American Library Association, the Wurn Family Library is staffed and operated completely by volunteers. They are always grateful to those who want to help out and to those who donate. “We are self-supporting through donations and fundraisers,” Gelfman said. Donations can be sent to the Wurn Family Library, C/O Congregation Ahavath Chesed at 8727 San Jose Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32217.
Additional funds are raised by the on-going “Hallway Book Sale” from books donated by the community. Hardcovers sell for $1.00 and paperbacks for just 50 cents.
A point of pride with the Wurn Family Library is that no book is ever discarded. Rather, they are donated to various area groups including the Bartram Trail Library, River Garden, Lake City Veterans, Brooks Rehabilitation and local county “Friends of the Library” organizations. There is also an active rabbi book exchange for those who are newly ordained, or who request books.
The library is open any time Congregation Ahavath Chesed is open and books are available even when staff is not present. There is a sign-out form at the front desk. “We work on the honor system and lose very few books,” Gelfman said.
You will find a visit to the Wurn Family Library to be worthwhile. It is a treasure not only to the Jewish community, but to the city of Jacksonville and all of northeast Florida too.
Author of the Spiritual Thriller, True Identity