The history of the Library of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia dates back to right after the World War One when, at the initiative of the then President of the Sephardic Jewish Community, Dr. David Albala, the „Serbian – Jewish Youth Community“ was founded, which organized different cultural events, performances and lectures in the hall of the Jewish home Oneg Šabat (currently these premises are the “Sinema Rex”).
This institution, in cultural terms, was the predecessor of the Jewish Reading Room, which was founded in 1929 at the initiative of Aron Alkalaj, as the Cultural Centre of Belgrade Jews. The purpose of this reading room was to serve as a „…modern reading room to read books and newspapers, and a place where the Jewish and the more general Belgrade circle, especially the young, could meet and learn about the eternal values that the Jewish people have given to humanity, and where, by learning about the life and work of prominent Jews in the fields of science, art, literature and philosophy, the Jewish youth and the public could get familiar with the bright and the tragic sides of the history of the Jewish people …“. The guests of the Jewish reading room were not only distinguished Jewish intellectuals, but even more Serbian public workers, scientists, authors, university professors, members of the Academy of Science, writers and journalists. Being a public venue the reading room was open to all lines of thought and a forum to discuss the issues of Jewish national renewal. In terms of funding, it was self-reliant, and supported by voluntary contributions of citizens and contributions in form of books by Geca Kon, the established and reputable Belgrade bookstore owner and publisher.
Regretfully, during WWII, the archives and the documentation of the Jewish Reading Room was practically completely destroyed, including also most of the books in its library fund.
The Current Library
The Library was renewed immediately after the WWII within the overall revitalization of the Jewish community in Yugoslavia, including cultural activities in the new Yugoslavia. Its initial library fund consisted of the Judaica. Olga Pops-Timotijević separated the Judaica from a branch of the Berlin University which, already during the war, through unusual coincidences, ended up in Belgrade and was housed in the publishing house Borba.
Although it represents just one of the cultural activities of the Federation, the Library still has a very specific significance and role within it. In terms of its character and purpose, it is a specialized library and the only one in Serbia that collects and preserves the Judaica – publications with Jewish topics, including the works of Jewish and non-Jewish authors in the fields of science, literature, publications, encyclopedia, etc. In 1979, some 300 most prominent and most valuable manuscripts and books from the Library fund were identified and given to the Jewish Historical Museum for conservation and restoration. Along with the Jewish Historical Museum, the Library is among the major sources of information for researchers and scholars, historians, linguists, translators, and artists who engage in research and study of Jewish history, literature, religion, tradition, art and generally the overall diverse Jewish heritage.
According to its inventory, the Library contains 7,057 library units in the Serbian and several foreign languages (German, English, Hungarian, Hebrew, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etc.). The inventory book contains the titles (and name of authors) in chronological sequence of procuring the books (bought or received as present) which are processed and aligned on the shelves. In the past, there was also an inventory by subject area, but it has not been updated and is therefore not relevant.
Records of the library fund are currently maintained by alphabetical catalogue, meaning by the family name of author. The books are placed on the shelf according to their serial number (numerus curens). The books, with the exception of the encyclopedias, are given out to community members to read outside the library and to other users to read and study in the library hall.
For years now the library does not have a permanent librarian, and it is practically not functional, except in exceptional cases when books are issued to individual scholars to use in the library hall. For the library to be active again and for its valuable contents to be accessible again, several issues need to be resolved, including the issue of the librarian, updating the alphabetical catalogue, and labelling of books and book-shelves, and providing room in the shelves for new books. In order to modernize the library the records and inventories need to be processed in electronic form, subject matter catalogues need to be developed so that the titles are also arranged by subject matter, which would facilitate the work of both the librarian and the library beneficiaries.