Crowd gathers for event at Cafe Yael Seferim
Take one underused cafÃ©, add thousands of unwanted books and a group of Hillel students with the passion to make a difference. This is the setting for the story of CafÃ© Yael Sefarim
(CafÃ© Yael Books), the latest tzedek project at Sapir College Hillel in Sderot, Israel.
"We saw this incredible underused public space in CafÃ© Yael at the Cinemateque," said Sapir Hillel Director Eyal Mazliah, referring to the socially-responsible cafÃ© that operates in Sderot's community cultural center and employs at-risk youth. "And we knew there was an important opportunity to create something new and very special there."
That opportunity became CafÃ© Yael Sefarim, an outgrowth of Sapir Hillel's Hevra B'Am initiative, which collects used clothing, appliances and other household goods and then sells the items at a Hillel-run thrift store in Sderot (watch video
). The proceeds from the store's sales are then used to fund community programs.
Sapir Hillel students noticed the stacks and stacks of books they were collecting as part of Hevra B'Am, and when they looked around the CafÃ© Yael space, the next steps became clear: in November the cafÃ©'s bookstore was launched.
"We started with just one shelf of books in the cafÃ©," said Sapir College freshman and CafÃ© Yael Sefarim project coordinator Noam Thomas. "Now, six months later, we have over 2,000 books, and it's the only used bookstore we know of in the western Negev. It's been an incredible addition to cultural life in the community."
And the bookstore has truly been a community effort. In addition to the nearly 20 Hillel students that help run the initiative, CafÃ© Yael Sefarim receives book donations from hundreds of members of the community and involves hundreds more through the programs it organizes with the store's proceeds.
In one such program, Hillel students work with the elderly to turn unsellable or damaged books into paper bags and bookmarks that are used in the bookstore.
The initiative also brings some of Israel's brightest authors to the cafÃ©. Authors Yochi Brandes and Gadi Taub have made visits in recent months, attracting crowds for readings and lectures. For authors such as these, a trip to the southern city of Sderot, known more for its rocket attacks than its cultural life, is not part of their usual tour.
"I love speaking here in Sderot," Brandes said. "The audience here is thirsty for culture."
And this is the difference that project coordinator Noam Thomas wants to be making in Sderot.
"This bookstore is a place for the entire community to find books and experience culture," says Thomas. "It's a place where people can come together and where new ideas are born. We want the community to be part of the story."