Crazy for Culture

 Crazy for Culture Pharmacist Nokhum Berman. Šeduva. Courtesy of The Lithuanian Central State Archive.

Pharmacist Nokhum Berman. Šeduva. Courtesy of The Lithuanian Central State Archive.

THE TOWN'S BOOKWORM NOKHUM

"The only problem is to be able to pick out the good from the very many mediocre, and, often, tasteless, books," Šeduva resident Nokhum Berman wrote. This letter, along with many others, will reach his friend (and perhaps love) Hinda Zarkey in distant America. Settled in the spacious room he rents from a wealthy but frightened Jewish man (who was scared of sleeping alone at night) and free from all outside distractions, he’ll tell her about Šeduva, ask her about America – where "life is always racing ahead” – and write about books. Faithfully, and always about books.

"I’m reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther now. I spend the evening hours reading. I read whatever I can lay my hands on. Not long ago I read Lavik's dramatic poem Abelard and Heloise in Yiddish. I re-read it a few times. In my free time, I train my brain with books on economics. I came upon them by chance, so I have to study all of them."

And so on.

This correspondence between Šeduva and Cleveland went on for three years, during which there was no mention of the unexpected, passionate, and painful farewell kisses he lavished upon Hindala in 1937. He won’t ask her about the failed date to which Hinda never came. In the pelting rain. They never speak of it. He writes of books he reads, like a man possessed, in Yiddish, Lithuanian, English, Russian, and German. Because he cannot live without them.