Mission, Vision, and Institutional Values
Our Mission (updated August 2023)
The Yiddish Book Center recovers, preserves, teaches, and celebrates Yiddish literature and culture to advance a fuller understanding of Jewish history and identity. The Center engages diverse, worldwide audiences, generating enthusiasm, knowledge, and commitment to the history and future of Yiddish and Jewish culture.
We further these goals through a range of innovative educational and cultural programs, digital initiatives, and strategic partnerships:
- We continue to recover books from across the globe and lead ground-breaking digital collections projects.
- Our educational programs serve high school students, college students, teachers, and adults.
- We train translators and publish new English language translations through White Goat Press, the Center’s book imprint, and Pakn Treger, our English language magazine.
- We conduct oral history interviews with people around the world whose stories offer a rich, complex chronicle of Jewish life.
- Our popular Visitors Center hosts exhibitions including Yiddish: A Global Culture, our permanent exhibition opening October 2023, and live programs, including our annual Yidstock: the Festival of New Yiddish Music.
- We reach international audiences through our robust website, virtual public programs, and our podcast, The Shmooze.
Our Vision (updated August 2023)
We envision a future where Yiddish, once denigrated, neglected, and nearly forgotten, becomes widely recognized as an essential component of Jewish culture and a wellspring of new creativity both within and beyond the Jewish community. The Yiddish Book Center will be at the heart of efforts to engage people of all backgrounds more deeply with Yiddish and modern Jewish culture.
Yiddish Book Center Guiding Institutional Values (August 2023)
Innovation and Access to Ideas
Over its 43-year history, the Yiddish Book Center has evolved from an organization focused on recovering and preserving books to an institution that creates access to Yiddish resources and culture through digital initiatives, educational programs, publications, translation, curation, and public programs for students, scholars, rabbis, teachers, and interested adults. The breadth of teaching tools, programs, courses, and curriculum are now at the heart of the Center’s mission, and the Board and staff are deeply committed to developing novel approaches to engage audiences. Through all its programs, the Center affirms its commitment to reaching diverse audiences across generations and backgrounds, regardless of prior knowledge of Yiddish language and culture.
The Center staff apply their expertise to identify new projects based upon their knowledge of the field. With the guidance and support of the Center’s leadership team, projects are developed consistent with the highest intellectual standards. Projects are well designed and skillfully written and curated, and experts play a vital role in the development of new initiatives. The intellectual integrity of our work means that we can disseminate Yiddish and modern Jewish culture in varied formats and share it with colleagues everywhere with confidence and conviction.
Internal Collaboration and External Partnerships
Internal collaboration means staff are encouraged to build on the work and ideas of others within the organization, sharing content, ideas, and problem solving. There is a resounding eagerness on the part of the staff to share in and support each other’s work.
External partnerships are key to the Center’s success—a small organization has a louder voice and a greater reach through collaborations with other organizations around the world. Partnerships take time and require relationships, trust, and clear communication—all skills the Center staff bring to its work on a regular basis. The Center is part of a larger Yiddish ecosystem and is proud that alumni of our programs are active in many fields that advance Yiddish language and culture. The Center also views its work as part of a broader story and seeks collaborations and partnerships within and outside the Jewish world.
Creativity and Risk Taking
When the Center’s founder, Aaron Lansky, first began collecting Yiddish books, many dismissed his efforts and underestimated their importance. Despite those voices, he was able to gain the support of tens of thousands who believed in the cause. This determination and willingness to take a chance has been at the heart of the Center’s culture ever since. The Center’s Board and staff are prepared to embrace new and creative ideas and support new initiatives. At the same time, innovative ideas do not always come to fruition, and success is not guaranteed. If our staff believes in a project and has the knowledge and vision to try something new, the Center aspires to be supportive and allow for experimentation, even if the challenges to the project make execution and completion difficult. This is not standard practice at many organizations. The Yiddish Book Center’s dedication to and support of its staff and their adventurous approach is a joyful institutional characteristic that can serve as a model for others.
Careful Listening and Personal Trust
The Center puts great stock in the feedback of its members and participants. Using informal and formal evaluation tools, staff members make program adjustments and incorporate suggestions where necessary. The Center prides itself on its efforts to foster a warm and collaborative environment, in which staff have a sense of teamwork, autonomy and ownership.
The Wexler Oral History Project is another example of careful listening. As we gather and preserve the diverse stories of Yiddish speakers and those with a deep connection to Yiddish culture, we are also listening carefully to the significance of those stories and thinking about ways to share them more widely. The quality of careful listening applies just as powerfully to the Center’s programs, which evolve out of thoughtful practice and attention to the needs and feedback of our audiences and staff. What people need and want from the Center’s programs often leads to next steps and future choices.
The website of the Yiddish Book Center is made possible through the support of Walter, Arnee, Sarah, and Aaron Winshall.