Rena and Alan Steinfeld
A Language that Will Continue into the Forever
Alan and Rena Steinfeld found their way to the Yiddish Book Center in the early 1980s and became charter members thanks to Rena’s deep engagement with Yiddish. According to Rena, “All things related to Yiddish get my attention, so it was very surprising to learn about the Center. I just thought it was incredible that a young person [Aaron Lansky] would take this on as a project.”
Rena was born in a displaced persons (DP) camp after the War; her parents were Holocaust survivors. Yiddish was her first language, the language spoken in her home growing up. “My family came to America when I was three. I didn’t learn English until I started kindergarten. My parents learned English in adult evening classes. But it was always more comfortable to speak Yiddish in our home.”
Yiddish has always been very much a part of Rena’s life. “It sustains me,” she explains. “I take adult Yiddish classes in Manhattan and am part of a small Yiddish group in Westchester County.” Alan is quick to suggest that she’s “understating” her involvement with the language. “Rena is an active student; she subscribes to the Yiddish Forverts; she reads the Yiddish in Pakn Treger. She’s a true academic student of the language—not a dabbler who uses the occasional phrase. Rena reads and speaks fluently; it’s a major activity of hers.”
Last year, while visiting the Center, Alan surprised Rena when he announced—by means of an IRA Charitable Rollover—that he’d established the Paul and Frances Rottersman Sperber Fund for Yiddish Language Instruction in honor of Rena’s parents. “It was meaningful—indescribably wonderful,” she says. “Words really are inadequate to convey the feeling that I have about this—it is a seminal part of my personality and it’s a great feeling to know that this will go beyond me through a gift to the Yiddish Book Center.
“I’m hoping the language continues to be vibrant, living, and changing. That it continues to be read and spoken. For that to happen going forward there will need to be people who are conversant. Within the language is a culture I value. It is such a wonderful surprise to me that there’s a generation of young people who are learning the Yiddish language and culture in classrooms and that they’re more facile with the language than I am. A generation of Yiddish speakers being trained at places like the Yiddish Book Center; I’m just thrilled to support that effort.
“That there is a place in academia and a place on the street for Yiddish, that there are cafés where young people get together to speak Yiddish, classrooms where they study Yiddish scholarship, that they’re doing research into the language’s origin and literature, I just think it’s remarkable.”
The exploration of Yiddish is ongoing for Rena. She’s excited to see Yiddish culture, language, and history brought into the twenty-first century through the work the Center has done making Yiddish so accessible on the internet. “I listen to the audiobooks, I look for Yiddish books, I read them and download them, I watch videos from the Center’s Wexler Oral History Project; I am just amazed at how the internet and computer technologies are used to teach Yiddish language through the new textbook applications. I am awestruck; each time I think this must be the cutting edge, you can’t go beyond this innovative technology. And then Aaron Lansky sends another four-page letter with something new yet again, something that I couldn’t have conceived of being possible. I am pleased that we have this opportunity to support such a worthwhile, rewarding, productive effort in every way.
“So I would say yasher-koyekh to Aaron Lansky and the Yiddish Book Center, and halevay vayter, which means that it should continue forever.”
For information on how you can roll over your IRA to 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 (Spring 2018)