Allison Schottenstein is currently pursuing a PhD in history at the University of Texas at Austin and has a particular interest in American and European Jewish history. In addition, Allison Schottenstein loves collecting dreidels and other Jewish antiquities, such as venerable old books in Hebrew and Yiddish.
The Yiddish Book Center, located in Amherst, Massachusetts, on the campus of Hampshire College, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing and preserving books in Yiddish. It was founded by Aaron Lansky in 1980, then a graduate student of Yiddish literature, who discovered that there were myriad irreplaceable Yiddish books that were in danger of being abandoned or scrapped because nobody wanted them. The elderly owners who brought the books from the Old Country treasured them as part of their legacy of Jewish life and culture in Eastern Europe, but Yiddish at the time was considered “dead,” and their American-born children couldn’t read Yiddish and weren’t interested in taking them.
So Aaron Lansky established a nationwide organization of zamlers (volunteer book collectors) to save the world’s Yiddish books. Rescued books were initially stored in the Lansky family’s home and then in various warehouses across western Massachusetts. The books were ultimately moved to their current location in 1997. By many estimates, there were 70,000 Yiddish books in the world when Aaron Lansky began collecting. Since then, the Yiddish Book Center has taken in more than 1 million books from multiple sources.