- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

AMHERST, Mass. — They were rescued from trash bins, attics and basements crumbling books written in Yiddish, a language with a future as flimsy as the volumes themselves.
Now the pages of 12,000 Yiddish books have been preserved digitally and, as of yesterday, many titles that haven't been published in more than 50 years are available online.
The project is a culmination of four years of work for the National Yiddish Book Center. It's a crowning achievement for its founder, Aaron Lansky, who has directed a 22-year mission to salvage 1.5 million Yiddish books.
"Could you imagine if in all the bookstores and libraries in the world, there were only three copies of 'Moby Dick' left?" Mr. Lansky said. "That's the situation we were facing."
Yiddish, a Germanic language written in Hebrew, was spoken by about 11 million Jews in Eastern Europe, North America and elsewhere. As Jews immigrated to America after the Holocaust, some Yiddish words such as "schmooze" and "klutz" assimilated with English, but subsequent generations largely lost interest in the language.
The books Mr. Lansky has collected are mostly duplicates of some 15,000 titles. They have been stored at the center's home at the Hampshire College campus and sold to institutions and scholars trying to bolster their Yiddish libraries.
About five years ago, Mr. Lansky and his colleagues realized they were down to their final few copies of some titles. With $3.5 million in private donations, the center soon began digitizing each title in its collection.
At a warehouse in Mechanicsburg, Pa., workers severed the spines of 12,000 works of poems, plays and stories and scanned each of their pages into a computer system.
"We had to destroy the books in order to save them forever," said Nancy Sherman, the center's vice president. "We've realized that our mission wasn't just about collecting books. It's about preserving them."
It took four years to get the 12,000 titles scanned and onto a Web site, where people could scroll through the list of titles and buy some online.
About 3,000 more books the center's most fragile still need to be scanned.
Within minutes of receiving an order, a printer in Mechanicsburg will produce an entire book, now printed on paper estimated to last about 500 years.
Each book will cost $29, or $21.75 for members of the National Yiddish Book Center.
Now that the books have been preserved, Mr. Lansky and other Yiddish scholars say their focus needs to be on making sure there will be people who will be able to read them.
"At least we now know there will always be a supply of Yiddish books," said Jeremy Dauber, a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University. "Now we need to make sure there's a demand."


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