Yiddish Book Center named National Medal winner

Date: 5/8/2014

AMHERST – The Yiddish Book Center has announced that it is one of 10 recipients of this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

The National Medal, the nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to the community, has celebrated 20 years of institutions that make a difference for individuals, families, and communities. The National Medal was presented by First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 8.

Winners of the National Medal were selected from nationwide nominations of institutions that demonstrate innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach.

The Yiddish Book Center was founded in 1980 by its current president, Aaron Lansky, then a 24-year-old graduate student of Yiddish literature. In the course of his studies Lansky realized that untold numbers of irreplaceable Yiddish books – the primary tangible legacy of 1,000 years of Jewish life in Eastern Europe – were being discarded by American-born Jews unable to read the language of their own Yiddish-speaking grandparents.

Some 30 years later, the organization has collected more than one million volumes, has established and strengthened Yiddish holdings at 600 university and research libraries around the world, and has posted the full texts of 12,000 titles online, making Yiddish one of the most accessible literatures in the world.

“We are thrilled to accept this award, not only as a recognition of the Yiddish Book Center, but far more importantly as a tribute to the enduring nature of Yiddish itself,” Lansky said.

For the past two decades, the National Medal has honored outstanding institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.

Commenting on the award, the Yiddish Book Center’s designated community member, author Peter Manseau, said, “I have benefited from the work of this exceptional institution for nearly 20 years, first as a student and intern, then as a writer and historian. My work as a novelist would not be possible without the Yiddish Book Center, and in this I am not alone.”

Manseau traveled to Washington for the May 8 celebration to share the story of the impact the Yiddish Book Center has had on his life.

“Congratulations to the Yiddish Book Center on receiving the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The Center’s work chronicling the Jewish story and educating families about Yiddish and Jewish culture is outstanding,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “This award is a well-deserved recognition of the Center’s efforts to preserve Yiddish books and literature for future generations.”

For a complete list of 2014 recipients and to learn more about the National Medal winners, visit www.imls.gov/medals.