Barack Bassman

"Investing in My Own Book Supply" (And Preserving a Cultural Heritage)

“I love to read,” says Barack Bassman. While browsing in a used bookstore during the summer of 2004, Barack stumbled upon an anthology of Yiddish stories in translation. “After reading that anthology I got hooked,” he says. “As the years went by I found myself drawn to reading more and more of the work. I was spending a lot of my time tracking down Yiddish works in translation.” 

In 2008, he purchased a new translation of writer Der Nister’s novel The Family Mashber and noticed the book had a blurb from the Yiddish Book Center. “It was the first I’d heard of the Center,” Barack recalled. Within a few months he and his wife, Jaime, made a trip from Philadelphia to Amherst to visit. “I spent about $800 on Yiddish books,” he remembers. “I bought as many as I could that day. I’m guessing it might have been the single most profitable day in the Center’s bookstore’s history.” Barack soon joined the Yiddish Book Center and become a financial supporter—and a regular attendee at the Center’s weekend programs. “I just keep trying to learn about and connect with a culture that once was,” he says. 

“I had a DNA genealogical analysis done recently,” Bassman reports, “and my background is just about 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish—that’s the cultural heritage of a thousand years of my family. It’s why I choose to support the Center’s work in preserving that cultural heritage. 

“There’s nothing else like the Yiddish Book Center,” he adds. “It has a remarkable capacity for reinvention and doing things that nobody else does. It never rests on its laurels. It engages in cultural initiatives that are really outside the box and that nobody else thinks of doing.”

Lately, Bassman and his wife have directed their support toward the Center’s translation initiatives. He admits there is a little self-interest involved. “I want to support the propagation of Yiddish literature and culture,” he says. “But I also want more books to read. I’m investing in my own book supply.”

For information on how you can support the Yiddish Book Center, please contact Zvi Jankelowitz at [email protected] or 413-256-4900, ext. 117.

From Kvel, the development newsletter of the Yiddish Book Center (Fall 2018)