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“Yiddish in America: Cultural Encounters” Is Theme of Inaugural Year of Multidimensional Programming

AMHERST, Mass.– To mark its 40th anniversary in 2020, the Yiddish Book Center has announced the launch of Decade of Discovery, a major new initiative designed to foster a deeper understanding of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture.

Beginning in 2020, and continuing for each of the next 10 years, the Center will select an annual theme around which events, courses, conferences, exhibits, performances, and other programs will be organized. The programming, often in partnership with other organizations across the country, will help create and foster new relationships with individuals and institutions to expand and strengthen engagement with Yiddish and modern Jewish culture.

As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we’re seeing the impact of the Center’s work realized in a multitude of exciting ways,” said Susan Bronson, the Yiddish Book Center’s executive director. “From our translation initiative, to the expansion of our educational and public programs, to the growth of our oral history project and the launch of our publishing venture, our work is broadening awareness of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture and opening up the literature to new generations.”

The schedule of events, which will be updated as additions are announced throughout the year, is viewable on the Center’s website at yiddishbookcenter.org/Decade-of-Discovery.

The Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to recover, celebrate, and regenerate Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture.

The Center was founded in 1980 by Aaron Lansky, then a 24-year-old graduate student of Yiddish literature (and now the Center’s president). Lansky realized that untold numbers of irreplaceable Yiddish books—the primary, tangible legacy of a thousand years of Jewish life in Eastern Europe—were being discarded by American-born Jews unable to read the language of their Yiddish-speaking parents and grandparents.

For nearly four decades, the Yiddish Book Center has uniquely positioned itself as a cultural and educational center, library, and museum—pioneering a diverse range of groundbreaking initiatives that broaden awareness of and accessibility to Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture.

Today, to mark its 40th anniversary in 2020, the Center has announced the launch of Decade of Discovery, a major new initiative designed to foster a deeper understanding of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture.

Beginning in 2020, and continuing for each of the next ten years, the Center will select an annual theme around which special events, courses, conferences, exhibits, performances, and other programs will be organized. The programming, often in partnership with other organizations across the country, will help create and foster new relationships with individuals and institutions to expand and strengthen engagement with Yiddish and modern Jewish culture. Through this initiative, the Center will collaborate in new ways, test ideas, and discover new perspectives.

“As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we’re seeing the impact of the Center’s work realized in a multitude of exciting ways,” said Susan Bronson, the Yiddish Book Center’s executive director. “From our translation initiative, to the expansion of our educational and public programs, to the growth of our oral history project and the launch of our publishing venture, our work is broadening awareness of Yiddish and modern Jewish culture and opening up the literature to new generations. Decade of Discovery will further animate the impact the Center has had—and will do so in the decade ahead.”

Inaugural-year events planned in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities; partnerships with libraries nationwide
Decade of Discovery launches in 2020 with the theme Yiddish in America: Cultural Encounters. Events around this theme will be presented across the country at such venues as New York City’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space, the American Writers Museum in Chicago, and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, as well as at venues in Washington, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, Boston, and Toronto. The full schedule of events, which will be updated as additions are announced throughout the year, is viewable on the Center’s website at yiddishbookcenter.org/Decade-of-Discovery.

Also announced as part of the initiative is the Center’s Coming to America: Reading Groups for Public Libraries, a program designed to engage teens and adults in thinking about immigrants’ experiences encountering America. Using Yiddish literature in translation as a portal, the program will explore questions of identity, assimilation, language, and generational change. The program presents American identity as an ongoing conversation and will compare works written in the early 20th century to works by contemporary immigrant writers.

Public libraries from all over the country were invited to apply to the program. “We were thrilled to receive 95 applications from libraries in 30 states, ranging from large libraries in major cities to smaller libraries in rural communities,” said Bronson. “The strong response to this program illustrates the interest in fostering deep conversations about the immigrant experience in America. The reading groups will introduce libraries and the public to Yiddish literature in translation within the context of the broader experience of immigrants adjusting to life in the United States—a topic as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.”

The Center will present related public and educational programming and exhibits throughout the year at its Amherst, Massachusetts headquarters.

Plus, publication of a momentous new anthology of Yiddish voices, a special podcast series, and where to find more information
In conjunction with Decade of Discovery comes the release of How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish (Restless Books, 2020), a momentous and diverse anthology of the influences and inspirations of Yiddish voices in America—drawing from 40 years of Pakn Treger, the Yiddish Book Center’s English-language magazine, and edited by award-winning authors and scholars Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert.

The weekly podcast Judaism Unbound is airing a new series of episodes entitled “Yiddish in America,” presented in partnership with the Yiddish Book Center’s Decade of Discovery. The series will feature interviews with a range of scholars and practitioners for whom Yiddish plays a central role in their work and in their lives.

The Yiddish Book Center’s website will serve as a hub for information about Decade of Discovery programming. A range of related content drawn from the Center’s collections and archives will be available on the Center’s website throughout the year, including newly translated work, articles, blogs, and oral histories.

About the Yiddish Book Center
The Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to recover, celebrate, and regenerate Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture.

The Center was founded in 1980 by Aaron Lansky, then a 24-year-old graduate student of Yiddish literature (and now the Center’s president). In the course of his studies, Lansky realized that untold numbers of irreplaceable Yiddish books—the primary, tangible legacy of a thousand years of Jewish life in Eastern Europe—were being discarded by American-born Jews unable to read the language of their Yiddish-speaking parents and grandparents. So he organized a nationwide network of zamlers (volunteer book collectors) and launched a concerted campaign to save the world’s remaining Yiddish books before it was too late.

When the Center began, experts estimated that 70,000 Yiddish books were still extant and recoverable. The Center’s young staff surpassed that number in six months and went on to recover more than a million volumes—some lovingly handed to them by their original owners, others rescued at the last minute from demolition sites and dumpsters. They recovered books in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France, South Africa, Australia, and other countries. The Center continues to collect thousands of additional volumes each year.

In 2014, the Yiddish Book Center was awarded a National Medal for Museums and Libraries, the nation’s highest medal conferred on a museum or library, at a White House ceremony.

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