2018-07-18 / Voice at the Shore

Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery repairs everything from heirloom books to textbooks

Got old books that need repair? AC is the place to do it
By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor


Sue Stryker and Emmy Todd staff Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery at the Beron-JOAS Herman Pogashefsky Senior Services Pavilion in Atlantic City. Sue Stryker and Emmy Todd staff Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery at the Beron-JOAS Herman Pogashefsky Senior Services Pavilion in Atlantic City. What do you do with that old bible that’s been in the family for generations when the cover comes off and the pages start falling out? And what about that family heirloom book from the old country that your grandmother used to kvell over—which is now too fragile to even open?

If you’re lucky enough to live in or around Atlantic City, you can take those books to Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery. There, for a modest fee, your book can be restored and preserved for generations to come.

Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery is housed in the Herman Pogachefsky Senior Services Pavilion, at 1102 Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City, which is also home to Beron Jewish Older Adult Services (JOAS). From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday, any member of the general public can stop by with books for repair.

In a large room on the pavilion’s second floor, bookbindery staff and volunteers fix books by hand, using hand-operated machinery that harkens back to a time before computers ever existed. On one side of the room, heavy cardboard book-covers stand in neat piles beneath long rolls of book-cover fabric, while the rest of the room is filled with workbenches, presses and other equipment.

This old-fashioned craft seems apropos for the books that get restored here. This summer, the bookbindery got a box full of books dating back to as early as the 1600s from an elderly gentleman from Vineland, said Emmy Todd, bookbindery coordinator. She and her assistant Sue Stryker put new spines on a 1655 edition of the Book of Job and a 1680 version of Ecclesiastes.

“It’s mind-boggling to get a box of books like that!” said Todd.

Old bibles, religious books and family heirlooms account for many of the books that they repair. One woman brought in the bible she had gotten for her bat mitzvah that she wanted restored to give to her daughter on her bat mitzvah. Some people bring in treasured books from their childhood that are now falling apart. Then there are the rabbis and cantors who bring in their most treasured books, worn from constant daily use, that they can barely part with for the time it takes to get them restored.

The bookbindery also gets a steady stream of well-worn textbooks (Holy Spirit High School drops off books at the end of each school year) and prayer books from synagogues and churches alike.

While textbooks typically cost about $10 to repair, books that require major repair and restoration can cost $75 or more.

But for Todd, Stryker, and the other seniors who have volunteered at Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery over the years, it’s really not about the money; repairing the books is largely a labor of love.

Both Todd and Stryker are retired teachers who learned the craft by taking the bookbindery’s annual training program. They then became volunteers and now receive a small stipend to run the bookbindery and teach the classes that they once took. The next 6-week course in bookbinding will be offered this fall.

“It’s a great activity for a retired person,” said Stryker. It’s something useful that older people can learn do to that will allow them to offer a valuable service to schools, synagogues and churches, she and Todd explained.

It’s also fun—and the variety of both books and people that make their way to the bookbindery never ceases to amaze them both.

What are the most memorable projects they have worked on? For Todd, it was a bible with a wooden cover from the 17th or 18th century that a church was putting on display at its 200th birthday celebration. For Stryker, a former art teacher, it was a beautiful bible with an elaborate cover that she had to restore, paint, and re-letter.

The most memorable client? “The German ambassador to Lithuania,” said Todd. He found the bookbindery online and sent them two Jewish books that needed to be rebound.

There have been memorable volunteers as well, including a 97-year-old gentleman who struck up a “bookbindery romance” with another volunteer, noted Stryker.

How did a bookbindery happen to open up inside of an Atlantic City senior services pavilion? According to Beron- JOAS Executive Director Adrienne Epstein, the Myriam’s Dream Bookbindery began in 1988 after a JOAS board member, Claire Weinstein, visited a bookbindery in Jerusalem called Lifeline for the Old, started by Myriam Mendilow.

That model was replicated locally with the help of grant funding provided by the Jewish Community Foundation. The bookbindery has also received ongoing grant funding and support from Myriam’s Dream, Inc., an international fundraising organization named after Mendilow.

To inquire about book repairs, or for information on bookbindery classes, call Beron-JOAS at 609-345-5555. 

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