Weekly Reader: Honoring the Legacy of Aaron Lansky

As most of you know, in June 2025 the Yiddish Book Center’s founder and president, Aaron Lansky, will be retiring. We’ll miss Aaron’s day-to-day involvement (though he’ll still be staying on to advise), but we know that his retirement is well deserved. Since Aaron founded the Center in 1980, he’s worked tirelessly to make Yiddish literature and culture available and accessible to all of us. The rich lode of material I’m able to mine every week for this newsletter is a testament to his success. To honor Aaron, and to mark his eventual passing of the baton to our current executive director, Susan Bronson, this week we’re taking a look back at the Center’s own history from its founding until now.

Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor

Our Story

A man with glasses sits on a stack of boxes in the trunk of a car

In assembling this newsletter, I rarely find a shortage of material to choose from. From digitized Yiddish books and recordings to podcasts, articles, oral histories, public programs, and more, there’s always plenty of goodies to explore. But it’s sometimes worth revisiting the more obvious, and therefore overlooked, parts of our website. On this occasion I recommend taking a look at the “Our Story” page. In addition to getting a basic overview of the Yiddish Book Center’s history you can also watch A Bridge of Books, Sam Ball’s award-winning documentary about the Center, in its entirety. 

Learn about the Yiddish Book Center’s story 

In His Own Words

A stack of books against a blue and white background

If you’re a longtime (or even not-so-longtime) follower of the Yiddish Book Center, you may have been privileged to hear Aaron speak about his life and work and how he came to start the Center in the first place. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to hear him speak, don’t despair. Plenty of Aaron’s talks have been recorded, and you can listen to them on our website. Here is one from 1987, in which he talks about the “Adventures of a Book Collector,” and another in which he talks about his award-winning book, Outwitting History (which you can buy from our bookstore, here).  


Listen to “Adventures of a Book Collector” 


Listen to “Outwitting History” 


Purchase Outwitting History 

Inspiring Others

A man in glasses and a button down shirt and a woman with short hair and a purple top

Rescuing Yiddish books and creating the Yiddish Book Center are perhaps Aaron’s most obvious accomplishments. A less obvious achievement, but no less important, is how he inspired countless people to embrace their own Yiddish heritage. These stories appear frequently in the interviews of our Wexler Oral History Project—here are just two of them. 

Listen to high school history teacher Mark Gerstein, z"l, describe taking an elementary Yiddish course with Aaron in 1980 

Listen to Anita Garlick describe how Aaron inspired her to become a zamler (amateur book collector) in Sullivan County 

Poetic Tribute

A page from a magazine with three columns of writing, titled "The Legacy"

In the spring 1995 issue of Pakn Treger, the magazine of the Yiddish Book Center, sandwiched between a galactic advertisement for Leonard Nimoy’s readings of Yiddish short stories and an ever-growing list of zamlers, was the first—and possibly only—devotional poem to Aaron Lansky. Written in both Yiddish and English, “Di yerushe” (“The Legacy”), by Sarah Traister-Moskovitz, rhapsodizes the “dark curly-haired young man / whose smile came from his heart.” 


Read about “Di Yerushe” 

Honoring the Zamlers

A man and a woman look through a pile of Yiddish books

The founding purpose of the Yiddish Book Center, and the heart of its activities, was collecting Yiddish books to save them from disuse and destruction. That activity—known in Yiddish as zamlen—long precedes us. During the First World War, I. L. Peretz pioneered the practice of zamlen as a way to salvage and record the history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. We’re proud to carry on that tradition, but we couldn’t do it without the efforts of the individual zamlers themselves. In 2020 The Shmooze podcast began a series profiling some of those zamlers, of all ages and backgrounds. 

Listen a podcast episode about the Yiddish Book Center’s zamlers 

Personal Touch

A paper book insert with a drawing of a bird and goat on the front

While zamlers are mostly concerned with the material they collect and save, they often put personal touches on their work. Cesario Lavery of Montreal, a self-taught artist, was unexpectedly called to the work of zamlen through serendipity and Instagram. On each of the boxes Cesario sent us, he included drawings of small animals, ranging from underwater seascapes to a yarmulke-covered cat clutching a copy of I. L. Peretz. For Cesario, the artwork serves as a type of amulet for the book’s journey, providing them with a safe trip to the Center. 


Read about Cesario Lavery’s zamlen work