Weekly Reader The Editors and the Publishers

January 23, 2022

The history of Yiddish literature is often portrayed as a history of Yiddish writers—it was the writers who wrote the books, after all. But those books didn’t materialize out of thin air. Like all writers, Yiddish authors needed editors and publishers to help them reach their readers. Those people are usually less well remembered, which is why this week we’re focusing on the behind-the-scenes of Yiddish literature. As history goes, it’s just as fascinating as the scenes themselves.

Ezra Glinter

Publish or Perish

Yiddish publishing was never easy. Its history is marked by government censorship, political upheaval, a geographically fragmented market, weak educational institutions, state repression, and the Holocaust. Nevertheless, Yiddish publishers did have one important thing going for them. Yiddish-speaking Jews were, by and large, readers.

Read about the history of Yiddish publishing


In the Yiddish Book Center’s vault of rare materials, there are countless pieces of cast-metal Yiddish type along with box after box of journals and magazines they may have been used to print. Over the past century and a half, organizations of every ideological stripe published more than 3,000 titles of Yiddish journals and magazines around the globe, from Cuba to Krakow to Capetown. But when you browse the titles you’ll notice a single word recurring again and again: “Undzer,” meaning “ours.”

Read about our collection of Yiddish periodicals


When Aaron Lansky set out to rescue Yiddish books in the early 1980s, he was undertaking what was already a venerable Jewish tradition: collecting. Over time other collectors (or "zamlers") joined in to help build the YBC’s collections and save countless Yiddish books. In honor of our 40th anniversary in 2020, we began a series of conversations with some of these volunteer zamlers, starting with one Jack Hirschberg.

Listen to an interview with a volunteer zamler

The Littlest Readers

The 1940s and ’50s were a golden age for primers, workbooks, and educational material designed for children in Yiddish schools. These books and notebooks have much to tell us. But so does what their users left behind: doodles, addresses, jokes, and other marginalia that provide glimpses into the inner world of schoolchildren in a unique educational system. Miriam Borden is a collector of these archival objects and recently won the 2020 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for her trove of schoolbooks, flashcards, and more. In this presentation, she shares highlights of this collection and the stories behind them.

Watch Miriam Borden’s presentation

Best Sellers

It’s one thing to look at a collection of books on a shelf; it’s another to know what people actually read. That’s what interests Emory University professor Eric L. Goldstein, a specialist in the reading culture of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States. Goldstein shares his knowledge of immigrant reading culture—from novels and short stories to Americanization manuals—during this time and what he has found in his research.

Listen to an interview with Eric Goldstein