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Sixth & I

Aaron Lansky

Dec 14, 2006 • 7:30 pm ET
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Lansky, founder and president of the National Yiddish Book Center and author of “Outwitting History”, is often credited with practically saving the Yiddish language from extinction. The New York Jewish Week says “Aaron Lansky is the Yiddish Indiana Jones…[He] has been an intrepid archaeologist and adventurer in his decades-long effort to find and save Yiddish book around the world before they are destroyed or lost forever”.

While studying East European Jewish studies at McGill University, Lansky discovered that large numbers of Yiddish books were being destroyed. Convinced that someone had to save those books, Lansky left McGill and started what he then called the National Yiddish Book Exchange. In 1980, when Aaron Lansky issued his first public appeal for old Yiddish books, it was estimated that only 70,000 Yiddish volumes were extant and recoverable. He rescued that many within six months. Today the National Yiddish Book Center’s collection totals more than 1.5 million volumes. Lansky has since received numerous awards and recognitions, including a 1989 “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.