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Title: Outwitting History, The Amazing Adventure of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books

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Title: Outwitting History, The Amazing Adventure of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books
Author: Aaron Lansky
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.

 

 

This memoir, from the founder of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, relates Lansky’s experiences learning to speak and read Yiddish in college, only to discover that “his” new language was in danger of passing out of existence.


Most of the Yiddish speakers of his time were old people; mainly refugees from Nazi Europe, and when they were gone the language – and their libraries – would be gone. Some of the other Yiddish speakers are chassidic, and very unlikely to read novels and other texts in Yiddish that are not seforim, holy texts.


Lansky relates that almost as soon as he became competent in the language, he discovered to his horror, that many thousands of books of all kinds, on all subjects, were being thrown out and put in dumpsters in the name of “cleaning up” and modernizing. Even brand new books were being discarded, filling up landfills all over the landscape.


Aaron Lansky had an epiphany – he was going to rescue these abandoned libraries, most of which their proud possessors brought to America as their only link to the “alte heim” or as a rare asset that survived the Holocaust.


Of course we can expect this tale to be a mystery story full of surprises, a “cliff-hanger” with unexpected developments along the way. Certainly, it is a jolly, rollicking tale of unexpected consequences, such as frequent gustatory experiences along with almost every rescue. The proud possessors of the treasures that Lansky was rescuing from oblivion each made him or his many proxies, first sit and ess a bissel, before they could escape. Whether it was gefilte fish, chopped herring or bagels and lox, each contributor demanded the humanity of accommodated at the table, before their “children” would be taken from them.


Lansky and his cohorts learned the real “language” that was never part of the vocabulary or the grammar of Yiddish.


Lansky was quite successful and established a beautiful headquarters/warehouse/library in Eastern Massachusetts, where efforts are being made towards the dissemination of newly-printed books and magazines in his “adopted” language.


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