Richard S. Herman

The Boundless Generosity of an Avid Book Lover

Richard S. Herman was a lifelong lover of books. Born into a family of readers, he stood out even at a young age as an exceptionally intelligent and thoughtful individual inspired by language and the written word. A Rhodes Scholar and, later, a successful criminal attorney, he amassed, throughout his life, an impressive collection of books. His cousin, Susan, a close family member, remembers visiting his home as an adult and finding an entire bedroom lined with shelves of books and another filled with containers of books.

“The amount of books that he had, I never saw in my life,” she recalls, laughing, “Cartons of books. Cartons. I just flipped them open to see if they were really books, because I never saw anything like it.”

“The amount of books that he had, I never saw in my life,” she recalls, laughing, “Cartons of books. Cartons. I just flipped them open to see if they were really books, because I never saw anything like it.”

Richard had a particular fondness for books about the Civil War, as well as those about Judaism, which remained another passion of his throughout his life. It may have been through books, his cousin suggests, that Richard learned of the Center’s work in regenerating Jewish culture and keeping Yiddish alive for future generations. Though he himself never learned Yiddish, it was the language of his grandparents and parents—what they spoke when they didn’t want the children to know what they were saying—and it held great significance for him. 

It was important to Richard that this language spoken by his parents and grandparents not be forgotten, and this wish, along with his profound generosity, recognized by all who knew him, motivated his decision to leave a bequest of $1 million to the Yiddish Book Center to endow an annual fellowship in his name.

“He said that it was very important to him to keep Yiddish alive,” remarks Susan, “because a lot of Europeans came over, and that's what they spoke with their children. The grandchildren maybe didn't speak it, but they remember it. He remembered it, and he felt that it was very important to keep it going. That's why he was so excited.”

In particular, Richard was excited about the Center’s educational programs and its work with young people, one of whom, Sophia Shoulson, is the Yiddish Book Center’s first Richard S. Herman Fellow for the 2019–2020 year. Shoulson, whose work focuses on bibliography, has already participated in rescue missions for Yiddish books around the country and, among other projects, has helped with the restoration of the Center’s Yiddish typewriter collection. As the Richard S. Herman fellow, she will continue this important work throughout the year, remaining immersed in Yiddish language and culture and, in doing so, helping to keep Richard’s legacy and memory alive. 

Richard passed away in the spring of 2019, taken too soon by illness, but his boundless generosity, his kindness, and his deep love of Jewish books and learning live on through his gift here at the Center. 

To discuss how you can include the Yiddish Book Center in your estate plans, please contact Director of Institutional Advancement Zvi Jankelowitz at 413.256.4900, ext. 117 or [email protected].  

From Kvel, the development newsletter of the Yiddish Book Center (Fall 2019)