The Rafalovsky/Berkson Family

A Devotion to Yiddish that Spans Generations

For five decades Aaron Rafalovsky was renowned on the Lower East Side for his work as a hand bookbinder. As his friend the journalist Daniel Persky wrote after his death in 1962, Rafalovsky was “a craftsman of note, a real artist” who, in the tradition of Jewish scribes, insisted on reading every book brought to him before he bound it—a tradition that sometimes could make for a slow turnaround. “When we approached him with mild complaints about delays and postponements,” Persky wrote, “he would answer simply and innocently: ‘I haven’t finished reading your book’.”

Rafalovsky’s devotion to Yiddish literature, which he shared with his wife, Ida, inspired their granddaughter, Suzanne Raphael Berkson, to study the language. Berkson, a retired art teacher, has illustrated a newly released picture book of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s classic children’s story The Parakeet Named Dreidel; she is also working on a book about her grandfather, called Grandpa Rafalovsky’s New Suit. She and her husband, Gershon, have been members of the Yiddish Book Center since its founding in 1980 and have taken weekend and online courses at the Center.

The fund recognizes the family members’ commitment to the continuity of Yiddish culture and learning.

It was fitting, then, that when Berkson’s daughter and son-in-law, Jennie Berkson and David Edelstein, decided to make a charitable gift in Suzanne’s honor for her seventy-fifth birthday in 2008, they chose the Yiddish Book Center as the recipient—and that the gift honors Aaron and Ida Rafalovsky as well. The Aaron and Ida Rafalovsky Fund for the Rescue and Preservation of Yiddish Literature recognizes all three family members’ commitment “to the continuity of Yiddish culture and learning,” Jennie Berkson says.

“David and I like to give to endowments because it helps ensure continuity to an organization and a mission,” Berkson adds. “In addition, at the time, there was a match available for donations to endowed funds, and we appreciated the opportunity to take advantage of that.” The creation of the fund, Berkson notes, also yielded a happy surprise: after the Rafalovsky’s other granddaughter, Harriet Schnur (also a member of the Yiddish Book Center), noticed the fund’s name in a list of donors, she and her husband, David, began making annual contributions to the fund as well.

To learn how you can establish a named endowment 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 2015)

* The illustration above is by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, from her book Grandpa Rafalovsky’s New Suit.