Monday, December 31, 2012

Book 37: Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky

I’m not really sure why, especially considering I was raised Catholic, but I really enjoy Yiddish.  My sister apparently appreciates it as well, or she is just interested in endangered languages, because she was the one who found this book and insisted that I read it. 

Aaron Lansky started studying Yiddish in college and was constantly fighting to find copies of the books he needed for class.  Since there were almost no copies to be found on campus or in bookstores, he started to go around to older Jewish families and ask if they had any Yiddish books they were willing to part with.  Many Jewish immigrants had books in Yiddish, but their children and grandchildren often did not speak the language, so all of these books were wasting away or being thrown out after their owners died.  Lansky chronicles his and his collaborator’s efforts to preserve these books and the eventual founding of the National Yiddish Book Center.  Their efforts have helped to keep Yiddish from dying out and given hope to people who felt that their culture was being abandoned.

I really enjoyed this book.  It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the history of Yiddish as well as the Jewish culture and how it transformed when people immigrated out of Europe.  It was pretty exciting for a book about books—there were many times where they had to race to save books from being ruined.  There were also so many people that I felt for in their desperation to pass on their knowledge to others in a world were few cared.

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