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June 17: Aaron Lansky

June 16, 2016

yiddish_books650x366Aaron Lansky, the founder of the National Yiddish Book Center (NYBC), was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on this date in 1956. Lansky began collecting discarded Yiddish books in the 1970s while studying the language as a graduate student at McGill University. He soon assembled a crew of zamlers (collectors) and formally established his not-for-profit organization in 1980. In 1989, he received a MacArthur “genius” award; in 1997, he oversaw the completion of the construction of the NYBC in Amherst, Massachusetts; in 2004, he published his memoir, Outwitting History. Today the NYBC houses 1.5 million books, is sustained by 35,000 members, attracts thousands of visitors each year, publishes Pakn Treger (The Book Peddler) three times annually, and operates on a $4 million budget. Thousands of volumes are also available now in digitized form. For a full portrait of Lansky and his amazing achievement, click here.

“The literature had enough intrinsic worth that no matter what anybody told me about how Yiddish was dead, and how no one cared about Yiddish anymore, what I knew was it’s just an extraordinary world literature that needed to be saved, no matter what. All the other virtues, the fact that it’s a critical part of defining contemporary Jewish identity, that’s sort of secondary . . . great books need to be saved.” --Aaron Lansky