Aaron Lansky, founder and president: Aaron Lansky was a graduate student in Montreal in the late 1970s when he discovered that large numbers of Yiddish books were being discarded by younger Jews who could not read the language of their parents and grandparents. So he took what he expected would be a two-year leave of absence from graduate school, founded the Yiddish Book Center, and, in the summer of 1980, issued a public appeal for unwanted and discarded Yiddish books. At the time, scholars believed just 70,000 volumes were still extant and recoverable. Lansky and a handful of young colleagues recovered that number in six months and went on to collect more than a million volumes. Their work has been described as “one of the greatest cultural rescue efforts in Jewish history.”
A native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Aaron Lansky holds a BA in modern Jewish history from Hampshire College, an MA in East European Jewish studies from McGill University, and honorary doctorates from Amherst College, the State University of New York, and Hebrew Union College. Early in his career he was included by Esquire magazine in its first annual register of “The Best of the New Generation: Men and Women Under Forty Who Are Changing America,” and he received a so-called “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 1989. His bestselling book, Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, won the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction in 2005. Aaron lives in Amherst with his wife, Gail. They have two daughters, Sasha and Chava.
Susan Bronson, executive director. Susan holds a PhD in Russian history and Jewish history from the University of Michigan and has worked in nonprofit culture and higher education for more than twenty years. Susan served as program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York; director of planning and development for Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts; and interim director of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She has consulted with museums, theater companies, and foundations including the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum, the Carnegie Corporation, the Kennan Institute, the Berkshire Theater Festival, and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
Sarah Bleichfeld, visitor services and public programs manager. Sarah received her BM from the Crane School of Music and her MM in viola performance from the University of Massachusetts. She has performed throughout the country, as well as internationally, and has experience in arts administration.
Melissa Bowden, development assistant. Melissa holds a degree in English and communication from UMass Amherst, a combination of study that stemmed from her lifelong passion for storytelling and its influence on culture and humanity. She's been a special collections and archival training fellow at the Dubois Library, a Mellon Fellow in collaboration with the Swift River Valley Historical Society, and an intern at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Carl Carrano, building and grounds assistant. Carl’s background includes ten years of housekeeping, six years of managerial, and four years of maintenance and repair experience. A graduate of the HVAC program at Porter & Chester Institute, Carl handles everyday repairs, maintenance, event setups, and fixture and lighting upgrades, with a focus on increasing energy efficiency and facility sustainability.
Amber Kanner Clooney, web developer and digital collections administrator. Amber manages and develops the website and technical aspects of the Center’s digital collections. She received her MLIS from Simmons College in 2007 and her bachelor’s degree in English from George Mason University. She has worked in various academic and public libraries, with a primary focus on digital resources, collections, and providing access to digital content.
Owalla ("Wally") Facteau, staff accountant. Before completing her BS in business management and accounting, Wally was a medical practitioner, a real estate agent, and manager of a plastics company. In addition to accounting, Wally also handles human resources, compliance with government agencies, and coordination of international book shipments.
Adrienne Figus, membership and online fundraising manager. Adrienne coordinates recordkeeping and communication in our membership department, manages our online fundraising work, and supports other web projects including our online courses. She is also a visual artist and has a degree in printmaking with a minor in art history and special focus on book arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Gretchen Fiordalice, director of education administration. Gretchen has nearly twenty years’ experience in nonprofit management and higher education administration. Before joining the Yiddish Book Center she was international scholar coordinator at the Center for World Languages at the Five Colleges, a consortium of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She holds a BA in French language and literature from Smith College.
Zvi Jankelowitz, director of institutional advancement. Before joining the staff of the Yiddish Book Center, Zvi headed his own fundraising consulting practice, The Jankelowitz Group. He was the director of institutional advancement at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and also served in director-level positions at Cohen Hillel Academy, American Friends of Israel National Museum of Science, and The Rashi School. He holds a BA from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and an MA from Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program in Jewish Professional Leadership.
Sami Keats, bookstore manager. For more than twenty years, Sami has worked as a photographer and hand bookbinder. She brings a diverse set of skills to her work at the Yiddish Book Center that combines a strong aesthetic sensibility with a broad knowledge of the publishing world. Sami holds a BA in history from Smith College and a MEd in urban education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Eitan Kensky, director of collections initiatives. Prior to joining the Center, Eitan was the preceptor in Yiddish at Harvard University, where he received his PhD in Jewish studies. An alumnus of the Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellowship Program, Eitan is a cofounder of the online Yiddish studies journal In geveb.
Natalie King, administrative assistant, Wexler Oral History Project. Natalie has worked in the Oral History Program at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and as the social media manager for a website she created with fellow graduate students at Northeastern University, where she received an MA in public history. She has a BA in history from the University of California, Davis.
Megan Kroll, education program assistant. Megan received a BA in English literature from the University of Georgia and an MA in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago, where she focused on the history of Yiddish poetry and literary journals in pre-state Israel. Prior to joining the Center, she served as co-chief of Mandala Journal. She is an alumna of the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program.
Josh Lambert, academic director. Josh holds a BA from Harvard and a PhD from the University of Michigan. He is a contributing editor of Tablet and author of American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide and Unclean Lips: Obscenity. Jews, and American Culture. Josh also served as the Dorot Assistant Professor Faculty Fellow in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.
Catherine Madsen, bibliographer. Catherine holds an MFA in writing and literature from Goddard College and has spent most of her working life in libraries and bookstores. She has published a novel, A Portable Egypt, a nonfiction work, The Bones Reassemble: Reconstituting Liturgical Speech, and many articles. She has served as a contributing editor to CrossCurrents magazine and is a senior fellow at the Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood.
Lisa Newman, director of communications and visitor services. Prior to joining the Yiddish Book Center, Lisa managed public relations and publishing projects for a variety of nonprofit and corporate clients. After moving to western Massachusetts to work for New England Monthly, she went on to work with magazine and book publishers including Horticulture, Orion, Country Journal, Storey Publishing, and Disney Publishing. Lisa has been an instructor at the Columbia Publishing Course and a panelist at industry events. She is a graduate of New York University.
Paul Page, treasurer and chief financial officer. Paul is a member of the executive committee with primary responsibility for oversight and management of fiscal operations and planning. Prior to coming to the Yiddish Book Center, Paul was vice chancellor for administration and finance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Sylvia Peterson, education coordinator. Sylvia helps with onsite courses and education programs at the Yiddish Book Center. Prior to joining the Center, she interned and worked at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Sylvia holds a degree in classics from Mount Holyoke College and has a passion for language, art history, and museum studies.
Ariel Rothberg, donor relations assistant. Ariel joined the Yiddish Book Center after graduating from UMass Amherst, where he received a bachelor’s degree in biology. During his time at UMass, he worked as a resident advisor and a student caller with the school’s Annual Fund.
Suzanne Rubinstein, executive assistant. Suzanne provides support to the Center’s president, executive director, and Board of Directors. She has years of administrative and development experience including work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel and the American Technion Society. She has a BA from The Evergreen State College and studied photography at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.
Asya Vaisman Schulman, director of the Yiddish Language Institute. Before joining the Yiddish Book Center, Asya taught Yiddish at Indiana University, where she was also the project manager of AHEYM, the Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories. Asya holds a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University, and a PhD in Yiddish from Harvard. Asya's PhD research was on the Yiddish songs and singing practices of contemporary Hasidic women.
Randi Silnutzer, director of operations. Randi oversees membership and online communications systems, as well as overall facilities operations. She has a background in arts administration and education and holds a BA from Hampshire College with a concentration in cultural studies and an MEd from the University of Massachusetts.
Susan Sussman, development manager. Susan joined the Yiddish Book Center staff in 2002, after working in the University of Massachusetts Advancement Office. Prior to that, she was associate director of the Florida-Israel Institute, working to enhance educational, business, and cultural exchanges between Florida and Israel. Susan holds a BS in communications from Florida International University.
Maureen Turner, communications coordinator. Maureen holds a BA in English from Haverford College and an MA in journalism from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She has a background in newspaper journalism, most recently at the Valley Advocate, where she served as managing editor and senior writer.
Liz Walber, assistant editor, Wexler Oral History Project. Liz holds a BA in film and gender studies from Smith College. Before becoming assistant editor she interned at the Wexler Oral History Project for more than a year, producing a feature short about klezmer musician Peter Sokolow. Lis is also a feminist filmmaker active in the experimental film scene in Northampton.
Christa Whitney, director, Wexler Oral History Project. Originally from Northern California, Christa discovered Yiddish while studying comparative literature at Smith College. She has studied Yiddish language at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute as well as the Yiddish Book Center, where she participated in the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program and was a graduate fellow.
Lesley Yalen, education program manager. Lesley assists in the development of the Yiddish Book Center's education programs. She received her BA from Brown University and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts. Before coming to the Center, she was a freelance writer and editor and director of a creative writing institute for teens. Lesley's poems and stories have been published in a variety of literary journals.