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Forest Hills Y’s Jewish library strapped for cash

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Members of a Forest Hills library will hold their annual fund-raiser next month, but this time the event might decide if the storied institution will stay open or close its doors for good.

State budget cuts have left the Hevesi Jewish Heritage Library, at 67-09 108th St., with no grant money since the summer, which translated to a total funding cut of nearly 70 percent.

“It was a shock to everybody when the [state] cut the funding,” said Rick Lewis, executive director of the Central Queens YM & YWHA, which houses the library. “But we’re not throwing in the towel yet.”

Since July the library has been operating on funds from the Y, an arrangement that Lewis said is not sustainable. Now he is turning to the public for help.

The fund-raiser, which is also part of the institution’s “Meet the Author” series, will feature Leonard Lopate, host of his eponymous radio talk show on WNYC.

“This is our annual fund-raiser,” Lewis said. “But this year it is more urgent than normal.”

In past years the state provided $50,000 of the $75,000 annual budget for the institution and the extra $25,000 came from the YM&YWHA and donations.

But the state budget has been crippled by a $9.2 billion deficit, with funding scarce for public institutions such as the Hevesi Jewish Heritage Library.

And these cuts mean residents might lose a unique site for Jewish culture that cannot easily be replaced.

“I would be devastated if it closes,” said resident Irene Shomberg. “The services here are something that I can’t get anywhere else.”

Shomberg and other patrons take advantage of the books about Jewish history, the Holocaust, contemporary culture and fiction, as well as the cultural events — such as the upcoming fund-raiser and lecture.

In the past, the library has hosted top authors from America and Israel, along with cartoonists, filmmakers and even top-ranking government officials. There are monthly book clubs to join and programs for children.

But there is also one intangible benefit. Jews from across a highly varied religious landscape can come together under one roof, said spokeswoman Peggy Kurtz.

“We have people coming in from all kinds of Jewish backgrounds,” she said.

And if the library does indeed close, Forest Hills residents will have to travel about 10 blocks to the Forest Hills branch of the Queens Public Library — Kurtz said residents could still check out books, but it just would not be the same.

“There isn’t another library in Queens that does the exact same thing that we do,” she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 6:30 pm, October 10, 2011
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