The Continuing Story of the Yiddish Language: The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts
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The focus of my article is a unique place, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, which connects Yiddish culture with the American one, the experience of the Holocaust with the descendants of the survivors, and a modern idea of Jewishness with the context of American postmodernity. Created in the 1980s, in the mind of a young and enthusiastic student Aaron Lansky, the Yiddish Book Center throughout the years has become a unique place on the American cultural map. Traversing the continents and crossing borders, Lansky and his co-workers for over thirty years have been saving Yiddish language books from extinction. The Center, however, has long stopped to be merely a storage house for the collection, but instead has grown into a vibrant hub of Yiddishkeit in the United States. Its employees do not only collect, distribute, digitalize and post online the forgotten volumes, but also engage in diverse activities, scholarly and cultural, that promote the survival of the tradition connected with Yiddish culture. They educate, offering internships and fellowships to students interested in learning Yiddish from across the world, translate, publish, and exhibit Yiddish language materials, in this way finding new users for the language whose speakers were virtually annihilated by the Holocaust. To honour their legacy, a separate project is aimed at conducting video interviews that record life testimonies of the speakers of Yiddish. Aaron Lansky’s 2004 memoir, Outwitting History, provides an interesting insight into the complexities of his arduous life mission. Today, the Center lives its own unique life, serving the world of academia and Yiddishkeit enthusiasts alike.