Obituary: Arthur Jaffe

By Ron Hayes
 
    DELRAY BEACH — One summer day in the late 1920s, a little boy named Arthur Jaffe asked a librarian at the Carnegie Library in Butler, Pa., to recommend a book.
    “She gave me a children’s abridged edition of Robinson Crusoe, and I couldn’t put it down,” he remembered. “That was the book that got me on reading as a passion.”
    In time, that passion for reading grew into a passion for books themselves — their size and weight, designs and decorations — and the boy who loved reading became a man who loved collecting.
7960561664?profile=original    When Mr. Jaffe died at home in Delray Beach on Jan. 25, his collection of books had become the Arthur & Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts on the third floor of Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library.
    Mr. Jaffe was 93 and the center’s catalog of books, broadsides and lithographs was nearing 12,000.
    “I tell people, if you walk out of here today and think about a book the way you always did, you haven’t failed, I have,” Mr. Jaffe told The Coastal Star in 2011, when the university awarded him an honorary doctorate of humane letters to mark his retirement as the center’s curator. “You think a book is a cover, a spine, a front and a back, but that’s not what you see here.”
    At the Jaffe Center, visitors find books made of aluminum, or wood. A pop-up book about birds that spreads its wings when opened. Even a book made of glass.
    Arthur H. Jaffe was born on May 7, 1921, and received a B.A. in classical studies from Penn State University in 1942.
    During World War II, he served as an Army intelligence and infantry captain and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor.
    From 1946 to 1948, he fought with the Jewish Defense Force to establish the state of Israel and received the Israel Defense Medal. In Jerusalem, he studied modern literature at Hebrew University.
    For three decades, Mr. Jaffe was a partner in the family business, I.M. Jaffe & Sons, operating retail stores throughout Pennsylvania.
    He served as director of endowments for the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and was active in the city’s United Jewish Federation.
    And through it all, he bought books.
    “I wasn’t thinking of building a collection,” he explained. “I was buying books for me. I purchased books because I liked the way they looked, the way they felt in my hands.”
    In 1984, when Mr. Jaffe and his wife, Mata, retired to Delray Beach permanently, he became a founding director of the Jewish Community Foundation of South Palm Beach County and volunteered at the FAU library.
    When the couple moved to smaller quarters, he offered the books to his children. They wanted a book here, a book there, but he wanted to keep the collection intact.
    The Jaffe Center opened on Jan. 6, 2000, with an initial donation of 2,800 books.
    Mata Jaffe died in 2001, and her bequest of $250,000, with a matching grant from the state, built the 4,800-square-foot space that houses the collection today.
    John Cutrone became the center’s book arts coordinator at its inception and was named director at Jaffe’s retirement in 2011.
    “Until the last year, Arthur was here most days, and very often he’d bring another book, or something else to add to the collection,” Cutrone said. “He couldn’t help himself.”
    Mr. Jaffe’s 2011 “retirement” was in name only, and soon he was helping to organize “Stories On The Skin,” a photo exhibit of FAU students’ tattoos.
    “They have messages on their bodies,” he explained. “I see them as walking books.”
    In his final year, Mr. Jaffe still came to the center two or three times a week.
    “His speech had declined, but he always came with new ideas,” Cutrone recalled. “He built this place, and it’s here, and it’s not going anywhere.”
    Last year, Mr. Jaffe received FAU’s Distinguished Service Medallion.
    “But no title could ever encompass all that Arthur meant to FAU,” President John Kelly said in a message to the university community. “To us he was a living legend who personified the highest and best values of his generation — ‘the greatest generation.’ ”
    Mr. Jaffe kept a small office in the center, and as his 90th birthday neared, he showed a visitor one of his latest purchases — an 1884 edition of Robinson Crusoe. An unabridged, grown-up edition.
    “I’ve never actually owned a copy before,” he said with a smile.
    Mr. Jaffe is survived by his children, Jeanne Jaffe, of Philadelphia; Jonathan Jaffe, of San Francisco; Joel Jaffe, Houston; and Julie Jaffe, Vashon Island, Wash.; and eight grandchildren.
   A funeral service and burial were held Jan. 30 in Butler.
    Memorial donations may be made to the Jaffe Center for Books Arts at FAU, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431.

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