Yiddish Book Center

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Yiddish Book Center
National Yiddish Book Center, Hampshire College, Amherst MA.jpg
The Yiddish Book Center is located within the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building on the campus of Hampshire College.
Yiddish Book Center is located in Massachusetts
Yiddish Book Center
Location within Massachusetts

1021 West Street

Amherst, MA 01002
Coordinates 42°19′19″N 72°31′40″W / 42.322°N 72.527703°W / 42.322; -72.527703
Website http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org

The Yiddish Book Center (formerly the National Yiddish Book Center) in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States, on the campus of Hampshire College, is a cultural institution dedicated to the preservation of books in the Yiddish language. It is a member of Museums10 and is a non-profit institution, and its cultural programs are funded by memberships and grants.


The Yiddish Book Center is a non-profit organization working to tell the whole Jewish story by rescuing, translating and disseminating Yiddish books and presenting innovative educational programs that broaden understanding of modern Jewish identity.

Founder and president Aaron Lansky was a 23-year-old graduate student in 1980 when he took a leave of absence from McGill University and issued a public appeal for unwanted and discarded Yiddish books. At the time, scholars estimated there were 70,000 Yiddish books still extant and recoverable. Since then, the Yiddish Book Center has gone on to recover more than a million volumes, with hundreds of additional books continuing to arrive each week. Lansky recounts the origins of the Center in his memoir Outwitting History.

In 1997 the Yiddish Book Center opened its permanent headquarters in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Center's 49,000 square foot, architecturally distinct, building is home to permanent and traveling exhibits, an English-language bookstore, a Yiddish book repository, and two performance halls where visitors can enjoy a full schedule of educational programs, concerts, films, lectures, and events including the annual Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music.


The Center has rescued over a million Yiddish books.

The Center’s duplicate holdings have been used to strengthen Yiddish collections at more than 450 libraries, including Harvard, Yale, Library of Congress, the British Library, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and others.[citation needed] Some duplicate books are available for sale to the general public.[1]

In 1998, with a grant from the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Center launched the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, which has digitized many works in collection. Through this program, over 11,000 titles have been digitized, cataloged, and made available for free download from Internet Archive.[2] To date they have been downloaded over 300,000 times. The books also have been made available as print on demand reprints for purchase.[1] The digitization project also led to The Steiner Yizkor Book Collection, containing over 450 digitized memorial books about East European communities destroyed by the Holocaust, compiled and written by survivors and previously available only in very limited used editions.[3]

Activities and Educational Programs[edit]

Public programs related to Yiddish and Jewish culture are offered regularly at the Amherst location, including concerts, films, exhibits, author talks, and events. An onsite and online English-language book store specializes in Yiddish and Jewish literature.

The Center offers an array of educational programs including: Great Jewish Books Summer Program offers high school students the chance to spend a week discovering and discussing Jewish stories unlike any they’ve ever seen before; the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program is a 7-week immersion in Yiddish language and culture for college students; the Yiddish Book Center Fellowships are paid positions that provide recent college graduates the opportunity to spend a full year at the Ydidish Book Center, spearheading innovative bibliographic, ethnographic, and educational programs. The Center also offers weekend and online courses for adults on diverse themes related to Yiddish literature and culture.

In 2001 Ruthe B. Cowl (1912–2008) of Laredo, Texas, donated $1 million to create the Jack and Ruthe B. Cowl Center, which promotes "Yiddish literary, artistic, musical, and historical knowledge and accomplishment" at the Amherst headquarters.[4] Early in 2007, Cowl donated another $750,000 to create the Cowl Jewish Leadership Program for promising college students.[5]

The Center also publishes Pakn Treger (Yiddish for "book peddler"), an English-language magazine.


As noted above, the organization's history has been controversial from the start. Lansky's claims that Yiddish was in a state of obsolescence provoked the ire of many people long-involved in Yiddish cultural activities.[6] His invocation of Yiddish nostalgia for the purposes of fundraising has also been the subject of debate both among Yiddish cultural activists and by critics of "ethnic marketing".[7] Lansky rankled initial supporters again when the new center was built by a non-union contractor that had no collective bargaining agreement with its workers.[8] Despite claims that this was offensive given the role of Yiddish speakers in the founding of the American labor movement and trade unions, petitioners from the Jewish Labor Committee and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America were ignored.[8]

The manner in which the Center raises and spends its funds has also been the target of criticism. According to the organization's IRS Form 990, Lansky's 2008 salary was reported as more than $195,000. Since the bulk of the organization's expenses are spent on the salaries of the top three employees and on fundraising, the independent charity evaluator Charity Navigator rated its efficiency a zero, or "exceptionally poor", and the overall organization as "poor" in 2008. The Center's rating has since improved significantly: In 2011, Charity Navigator gave the Yiddish Book Center an overall score of three stars out of four, based on a financial-performance score of two out of four stars and an "Accountability & Transparency" score of four out of four stars.[9] As of August 2014, Charity Navigator gives the organization a score of 97 percent in the category of "accountability and transparency" and an overall rating of 87 percent. [10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b About Our Books[dead link]
  2. ^ Yiddish Books Online![dead link]
  3. ^ Jonathan Boyarin, Jack Kugelmass (2014-05-14). "David and Sylvia Steiner Yizkor Book Collection". Yiddishbookcenter.org. Retrieved 2014-06-15. 
  4. ^ National Yiddish Book Center - About the Cowl Center[dead link]
  5. ^ National Yiddish Book Center - Inspired Gift from Visionary Donor Will Bring Yiddish to College Campuses[dead link]
  6. ^ Lansky, Aaron (2004). Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1-56512-429-4. 
  7. ^ Halter, Marilyn (2000). Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity. New York, N.Y.: Random House. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-8052-1093-4. 
  8. ^ a b Jewish Labor Committee press release, May 12, 1995.
  9. ^ "Charity Navigator Rating — National Yiddish Book Center". Charitynavigator.org. Retrieved 2014-06-15. 
  10. ^ "Charity Navigator Rating - Yiddish Book Center". www.charitynavigator.org. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°19′19.20″N 72°31′39.73″W / 42.3220000°N 72.5277028°W / 42.3220000; -72.5277028