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Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books Paperback – September 2, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Lansky was a 23-year-old graduate student in 1980 when he came up with an idea that would take over his life and change the face of Jewish literary culture: He wanted to save Yiddish books. With few resources save his passion and ironlike determination, Lansky and his fellow dreamers traveled from house to house, Dumpster to Dumpster saving Yiddish books wherever they could find them—eventually gathering an improbable 1.5 million volumes, from famous writers like Sholem Aleichem and I.B. Singer to one-of-a-kind Soviet prints. In his first book, Lansky charmingly describes his adventures as president and founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, which now has new headquarters at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. To Lansky, Yiddish literature represented an important piece of Jewish cultural history, a link to the past and a memory of a generation lost to the Holocaust. Lansky's account of salvaging books is both hilarious and moving, filled with Jewish humor, conversations with elderly Jewish immigrants for whom the books evoke memories of a faraway past, stories of desperate midnight rescues from rain-soaked Dumpsters, and touching accounts of Lansky's trips to what were once thriving Jewish communities in Europe. The book is a testimony to his love of Judaism and literature and his desire to make a difference in the world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Lanskys quarter-century quest not only helped keep Yiddish literature from slipping into history, but also provided him with plenty of terrific material for his first book. Granted, a story about collecting old volumes in an obscure language initially sounds less than thrilling. But thanks to Lanskys storytelling skills, this memoir lives up to the "amazing adventures" advertised in its title; its quickly clear why hes been dubbed "the Yiddish Indiana Jones" and "the Otto Schindler of Yiddish literature." Lanskys recounting of his personal mission may come off as self-aggrandizing to a few readers. But most will likely view the book as a great tale filled with memorable anecdotes and a rich cast of characters who reflect the endangered culture theyre trying to save.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
So much of Yiddish writing and literatures concerns itself with Yiddishkeit, what it means to be Jewish, and how it plays a role in the day to day lives of all Jews. The writings teach us about humanity, performance of mitzvahs, regard for one's fellow man, respect for education, and continuity of family and tradition. Lansky has helped many of us who fail to understand why we cling to our roots in this modern world; we go to shul maybe once or twice a year, have an occasional Passover dinner, or attend a children's Purim festival. His book has served as a wake up call. There is more to Yiddishkeit than marginal participation. He has opened my eyes to the extensive world of Yiddish literature. Even though my memory of the language is vague and I can only read a little in Yiddish, the fact that these books are now available in English translation is a phenomenal achievement. Up until now, I have read only books by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Malamud; available is a myriad of genius writers that I can access.
When the feast ended, I realized the feat of his travail. His book is a testimony to the efforts of one, and many others as well, to preserve our Jewish history and language. Lansky made me laugh and cry from page to page as he educated me in the re-appreciation of Yiddishkeit.
In addition, the stories of Mr. Lansky's collecting experiences were wonderful and I was sorry when the book ended. I loved meeting people who reminded me of my relatives, now long gone.