roslyn bernstein
3 min readOct 27, 2023

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Returning to the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village

The Girl Who Counted Numbers, November 9th at 6 PM

When my now adult children were small, they attended P.S. 41 on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. It had the perfect location, just a few blocks from the Jefferson Market Library on 8th Street and 6th Avenue.

We had an arrangement. If I was running late in a Baruch College campus meeting, they would meet me there, books in hand. They had their favorite seats and they loved its atmosphere. When they were involved in some after school activity and I was early, I would sit at one of the desks and mark papers and scribble little notes.

It most certainly did not feel like the courthouse that it once was when it was designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux in a Victorian Gothic style. It was erected along with an adjacent prison during the years 1875–1877 and cost New York City almost $360,000.

During the 1880s it was voted one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America by a poll of architects. By 1945, court was no longer held in Jefferson Market and various agencies occupied the space. Local community members including the poet E.E. Cummings rallied to save the building and in 1961, it was preserved and converted into a public library which opened in 1967.

It was to become our comfort zone, our home away from home when we started spending our afternoons there in the mid-1970s. A place filled with young Greenwich Village parents and students from nearby public schools.

So, in 2023, it truly feels like returning home on November 9th when I will be coming to the library to give a book talk and signing for my novel, The Girl Who Counted Numbers, a narrative with echoes of a courtroom on two sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The book is set in 1961 in Jerusalem during the Adolf Eichmann trial, a year when I lived in Israel. The trial was very much in the news although few people had television and most listened on the radio. Sometimes, one heard loud speakers in the early evening accounting the day’s testimonies.

When I was not in one of the Ulpan language schools learning Hebrew or traveling around the country with a group of 12 Brandeis University students who were studying political science, economics, and sociology, I hung out in the cafes on Ben Yehudah Street, eavesdropping on the conversation of many of the Holocaust survivors. I knew enough Hebrew to understand their pain. I was not yet a journalist so I did not take any notes but I listened carefully and their stories were embedded in my brain.

For decades after that, I sat at one of the desks in the Jefferson Market Library writing down phrases, little notes, bits of conversation from my Israel experience, all shoved into a manila folder awaiting their future. The supermarket guard with the numbers on his arm. I saw him almost every day. He spoke to me with a soft, sad voice.

It was a quiet beautiful place to ponder a novel, one that I finally published — a book that won a Kirkus Starred Review.

How thrilled I am to be reading it here.

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roslyn bernstein

An arts and culture journalist for Guernica, Huff Post, Tablet. Books include The Girl Who Counted Numbers,Engaging Art, Illegal Living, and Boardwalk Stories.