An Ode to Yiddish Books

Highlights from the Collection

What is it about a library? That smell of slightly dusty books as sunlight streams in through a window, the weight and feel of the book and its crisp or well-loved pages in your hand, the thought of the abundance of stories and histories just waiting to be discovered . . . books can have both physical and intangible magic. If you—like us—can’t imagine your summer without a stack of good books, you’ll definitely enjoy this selection of interview excerpts from Yiddish book lovers around the world.

Saving a Yiddish Library and Connecting with the Yiddish Book Center

In this highlight Sara Tepper, z’’l, Yiddish speaker born in Poland, recalls how she and her sister became zamlers (volunteer book collectors) for the Yiddish Book Center. She shares the story of how she, her sister, and their neighbors saved 14,000 Yiddish books and sent them to Aaron Lansky when her family’s local library was converted into a laundromat.

“A Book Is Not an Object, It’s a Living Thing”: Chaim Grade’s Relationship to His Library

Yiddish writer Chaim Grade had a special relationship to the books in his library. In this clip (in Yiddish with English subtitles) David (Dovid) Fishman, scholar of Eastern European Jewish history and Grade’s personal friend, recalls how Grade considered books living, breathing objects. He would regularly flip through pages and move shelves of books from one location in his apartment to another to maintain the living quality of his library.

Ordering Yiddish Poetry by the Kilo

In this excerpt (in Russian with English subtitles) Valery Dymshits, researcher and lecturer at the Interdepartmental Center “Petersburg Judaica” at the European University at St. Petersburg, shares his story of ordering books from the Yiddish Book Center while working on an anthology of contemporary Jewish poetry. At the time the Center charged only the shipping fee for orders of duplicate books, so Valery ordered poetry by the kilo rather than by the book.

The Physical, Sensory Experience of Engaging with Books

Caraid O’Brien—writer, performer, and director, including of Yiddish works—shares some highlights of her summer internship at the Yiddish Book Center, including her work unpacking and identifying books in the Center’s warehouse in Holyoke, MA. She describes the interplay between learning the language and interacting with the materiality of all the books and the history contained within them.

Covered with Books: The Home of Mordkhe and Charne Schaechter

In this clip (in Yiddish with English subtitles) Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, Yiddish poet and daughter of linguist Mordkhe Schaechter, describes her childhood home: nearly every wall was covered with books, and the cellar contained the reassembled stacks of a library. She explains how her parents, who already owned tens of thousands of books, inherited many Yiddishists’ collections and how the children’s bedrooms were repurposed as libraries after they left home.

No Sewage but a Great Library: Memories of the Industrial City of Lodz

In this highlight (in Yiddish with English subtitles) Jack Lewin—Yiddish poet and actor based in Los Angeles—shares memories of his hometown of Lodz, Poland. He describes both the lack of sewage in the city at the time and the active cultural life, including the library, of which he was a member from a young age.

“Yiddish Belongs to All”: What to Do with Thousands of Yiddish Books

In this excerpt (in Spanish with English subtitles) Liora Rapoport, coordinator of the library renovation project at CIM-ORT (Jewish School of Mexico City), describes the school’s efforts to save thousands of Yiddish books before they were destroyed. She explains the way decisions were made about where to send specific books, as well as the guiding question “What are we doing for Yiddish?”

Photograph at the top: The book repository at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA