July 17, 1989

Yiddish Book Rescuer Wins Genius Grant

Region:
Western

On this day in 1989, an Amherst man who had spent more than a decade scrounging in dumpsters, basements, and attics was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." Aaron Lansky led an initially quixotic campaign to save Yiddish books and, in the process, Yiddish culture. As Jews from eastern and central Europe assimilated to new homelands, they abandoned the language and the literature of their parents and grandparents. Lansky traveled across the U.S. and around the world rescuing Yiddish books. With his MacArthur money, he opened the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, which houses the world's largest collection of Yiddish literature and is now "one of the most visited and talked about Jewish tourist destinations in the world."

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