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.
Faune Albert, communications content editor and project manager. Faune holds an MA in English and a graduate certificate in intersectional feminisms from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she taught writing and literature for many years and worked as an editor. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English, with a focus in contemporary U.S. Southern women’s writing and intergenerational, embodied trauma. She received her BA from Hampshire College in cultural studies and creative nonfiction writing and is passionate about the intersections of social justice, mindfulness practices, and artistic expression.
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.
Sam Brivic, membership and communications assistant. Sam received his BA in history and geography from Clark University. He was a child when he first heard tales about the Yiddish Book Center from his grandparents, who have been enthusiastic longtime members. Prior to working at the Center, Sam was a touring musician and has experience working in a wide variety of fields.
Sarah Browne, development assistant. Sarah received an MA in art history from UMass Amherst in 2014. Delighted to return to the Pioneer Valley, her love of history and literature led her to the Yiddish Book Center. She has collections, curatorial, education, and visitor services experience at museums throughout Massachusetts and New York. Prior to joining the team at the Yiddish Book Center, she held a number of roles at Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires, including curatorial assistant and historic interpreter.
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.
Emily Densmore, Wexler Oral History Project assistant. Emily received her BA in Creative Writing from Roanoke College. She discovered Yiddish while pursuing her undergraduate degree and designed her own Yiddish independent study comparing the themes of pre- and post-war Yiddish literature, becoming the first person to study Yiddish at her college. Emily joined the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project in the summer of 2018 and has been enjoying deepening her knowledge of Yiddish language and culture.
Amber Kanner Clooney, web developer and digital projects librarian. 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.
Madeleine (Mindl) Cohen, director of translation and collections initiatives. Mindl has a PhD in Comparative Literature with an emphasis in Jewish Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a western Massachusetts native, she grew up in Greenfield and attended Hampshire College, where her studies focused on German and German-Jewish literature. As an undergraduate, Mindl participated in the Yiddish Book Center's Steiner Summer Yiddish Program, which set her on the path of Yiddish Studies, and more recently she was a Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow. Before coming (back) to the Center, she worked as the Editor-in-Chief for In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies and taught Yiddish language at Harvard University.
Janet Engelson, accounting clerk. Janet is a former owner of Backstage Hardware & Theatre Supply in Boston, a True Value hardware store specializing in theatre supply and servicing university theatre departments as well as movies filming in Boston. She has a BS in education and has also worked as a technology specialist for the Framingham School Department supporting and training users with hardware, software, and network issues.
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.
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.
Margaret Frothingham, education program assistant. Margaret holds a BA in English Literature and Studio Art from Wheaton College in MA and has a passion for children's literature and illustration. An avid artist, writer, and listener, Margaret is inspired by the power of language and the written word. As a volunteer and intern at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, she developed an interest in museum education and programming.
Ruth Gold, major gifts officer. Ruth received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an SM in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard School of Public Health. After working in the field of managed care, Ruth made a career change to Jewish Communal Service and Development. Prior to joining the Center, Ruth was the Assistant Regional Director/Major Gifts Officer for the New England Region of the American Technion Society for 10 years.
Jeff Hayes, program manager. Jeff manages the many initiatives involved in celebrating the Center’s 40th anniversary in 2020. He earned his MLIS from the University of Alabama in 2019, his MA in higher education administration from Bay Path University, and his BA in international studies and Spanish from Stonehill College. He worked for over 10 years in academic affairs and student services at Harvard College, and he also completed archival internships with the National Archives and Records Administration and Brandeis University’s Archives and Special Collections Department.
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.
Josh Lambert, academic director, is a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture, which won a Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Jordan Schnitzer Award from the Association for Jewish Studies, and American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide. His reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Haaretz, the Forward, the Globe and Mail, and many academic journals.
David Mazower, bibliographer and editorial director. Prior to joining the Center, David was a senior staff journalist with BBC News in London and deputy curator of the Jewish Museum London. He writes for the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project and is the author of Yiddish Theatre in London. He has also published several articles on his great-grandfather, Sholem Asch. He graduated in history from Cambridge University and has a postgraduate diploma in Russian.
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 numerous national magazine and book publishers. She has been an instructor at the Radcliffe Publishing Course and 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.
Jessica Parker, museum education specialist. Jessica is an alumna of the Yiddish Book Center’s Steiner Summer Yiddish Program, Fellowship Program, and TENT: Museums. She holds an Honours BA in anthropology, linguistics, and French from the University of Toronto and an MA in cultural studies, focusing on museum studies and Jewish studies, from Queen’s University. Jessica has worked as an educator, curator, and archivist at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv and the Markham Museum in Markham, Ontario.
Sylvia Peterson, education program manager. 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.
Carole Renard, Wexler Oral History Project’s NEH oral history project coordinator. Prior to joining the staff, Carole was a Wexler Oral History Project intern and completed her training as an oral historian. She holds an MA in Jewish Studies from University College London and a BA in Anthropology and Jewish Studies from Smith College.
Ollie Schmith, building and grounds supervisor. Ollie has over 30 years of experience in maintenance and construction, including roles as an equipment operator and general contractor. In addition, he has served as a regional director of environmental care in various healthcare and educational facilities throughout the northeast and was a volunteer emergency services responder for the American Red Cross for over a decade.
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.
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.
Phoenix Wyatt, education program assistant. Phoenix received her BA from Hampshire College with a focus in Gender and Power Politics. She discovered the Yiddish Book Center during her undergraduate studies and has been involved with the Center in various ways over the past six years. Her deep love of language and culture drives her in every aspect in her life, both in and out of the office. Phoenix now works within the education department, helping with programs such as the Steiner Summer Yiddish Program and the TENT: Encounters with Jewish Culture workshops.
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.