With the help of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, has new resources to put toward its honorable mission of preserving and showcasing Yiddish literature and Jewish history. The $170,000 award, which could include up to $100,000 in additional matching funds, will support the Center’s Wexler Oral History Project, an online archive of video interviews about Yiddish, as well as Jewish language, history, and culture. The videos, available in excerpted format on the center’s website, chronicle the lived experiences of people from all walks of life who have a story to tell about yiddishkayt. Some are in Yiddish; others are in English. The project, which was founded in 2010, currently includes more than 700 interviews.

The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. (Wikimedia)

“We are honored and humbled to receive this grant,” Christa Whitney, the Wexler Project’s director, told me. “Given the dearth of digital resources on Yiddish and modern Jewish secular culture more broadly, we believe it is important to make all the full interviews available not only to scholars but also to the general public.”

The grant will enable the center to improve technical aspects of the project in the service of making it accessible to a broader audience. With an updated web interface, users will be able to search for specific portions of interviews. The funding will also strengthen the project’s utility specifically as a scholarly resource: With an update to the website’s metadata, the archive will be discoverable by scholarly search platforms and accessible through digital libraries.

The Yiddish Book Center, located in Amherst, Massachusetts, was founded in 1980 by Aaron Lansky in order to preserve a vast number of Yiddish texts that would have otherwise been forgotten or discarded. The Center has since saved over a million Yiddish books, and is committed to sharing the rich world they contain with scholars and visitors through conservation, translation initiatives, language and culture educational programs, exhibits, and much more. An unlikely hub of yiddishkayt in the idyllic, pastoral Pioneer Valley, it stands as a beacon to the dynamism and endurance of Ashnenazi Jewish culture. In 2014, the Center was awarded a National Medal for Museums and Libraries, the nation’s highest honor for such institutions, at a White House ceremony.

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