Friday, April 4, 2014

Saving a Schtickle of History

Aaron Lansky’s Outwitting History presents an interesting counter-trend to modern habits of reading: in an age when physical books are being less and less read, Lansky has spent his whole life rescuing Yiddish books.

Lansky’s account of rescuing the literature of a quickly dying language has both sad and triumphant overtones. As he first starts collecting Yiddish books, many Yiddish writers and readers are alive, if not old, and Lansky gets to see glimpses of their world. As an American Jew, Lansky knows what he has missed: the world of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, working together to form a seamless world.

Through Herculean effort, Lanksy and others eventually create the Yiddish Book Center, a home to a million and a half Yiddish books. Yet that world is gone, and after the Center is built, Lansky has some interesting and sad things to say about Jewish continuity, or the lack thereof.

All in all, this is a fascinating book that documents the steady decline of a civilization and in relatively short space of time, and a group of people’s determination to save a piece of it.

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