Sharing the Power of Words
Though never particularly religious, Larry Ruttman says, “I’ve always been a proud Jew.” He’s also a lover of language, an affinity that reaches back to his days studying Latin as a 1940s high school student in Brookline, Massachusetts. Now in his eighties, the longtime attorney is pursuing a second career as a writer.
“Words have power,” Ruttman says. “If you know how to use language and you know how to express yourself, you’ve got a leg up on being able to achieve your goals.”
It’s no surprise, then, that when Ruttman and his wife, Lois, began putting together an estate plan, they included a bequest to the Yiddish book Center to support Yiddish instruction at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Ruttman’s alma mater. The first course began this year, taught by Asya Vaisman Schulman, the director of the Center’s Yiddish Language Institute. It is open to students from UMass as well as nearby Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges.
"I appreciate language as a representative of the history in which that language was spoken."
Although he was always proud of his Jewish heritage, Ruttman says, the experience of working on his second book, American Jews and America’s game, deepened that pride. The 2013 book tells the story of Jews and big-league baseball and is based on almost fifty interviews with Jewish players, executives, journalists, and fans. “In the course of writing that book I became even more aware of my Jewishness,” he says.
While Lois Ruttman grew up around some Yiddish speakers and uses Yiddish expressions in daily conversation, Larry doesn’t speak the language, nor did his parents. But, he says, “I appreciate language, and I appreciate language as a representative of the history in which that language was spoken. . . . I’ve picked up some of those expressive Yiddish words from Lois and use them myself in talking and even occasionally in writing.”
He especially appreciates how rich and expressive the Yiddish language is—and how endangered it was. “Yiddish was spoken by so many people, and I knew it was dying out a little bit,” Ruttman says. So when he learned about the Yiddish Book Center and read Outwitting History, Aaron Lansky’s memoir about its founding, he was eager to support the Center’s work.
“It’s very important to preserve Yiddish,” he says. The Ruttmans’ gift to the Yiddish Book Center will do just that, helping a new generation learn the language and explore the riches of Yiddish literature and culture.
To learn how you can establish a bequest to support the Yiddish Book Center, please email or call Zvi Jankelowitz at 413-256-4900, ext. 117.
From Kvel, the newsletter of the Yiddish Book Center (Fall 2016)
The following is a podcast episode of The Shmooze featuring Larry Ruttman.