4000 Yiddish books emigrate to USA

May 16, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Sydney’s The Australian Jewish Historical Society is preparing to send 4000 books in Yiddish to a central Yiddish book centre in Massachusetts.

President of the society Peter Philippsohn takes up the story…

In storage

“Many years ago, the Jewish Folk Centre was the hub of Yiddish life in Sydney.

With the passage of time, interest in Yiddish has waned and many Yiddish speakers have passed on.

The Folk Centre moved to Saber Street in Bondi Junction, adjacent to JewishCare and across the road from CoA.

By 2008, the membership and focus of the Folk Centre had switched to Israelis who wanted to maintain their connections with fellow Israelis and to modern Hebrew.

The walls of Saber Street were lined with some 4,000 Yiddish books which now sat unread.

Rather than see them thrown away, these books were salvaged by Sister Marianne Dacy of the Australian Archive of Judaica. They then were farshvundn (disappeared from sight).

More years passed. The Archive relocated to Fisher Library at Sydney University.

A phone call in March 2017 from the university asking for their storeroom back was the first we, at the Australian Jewish Historical Society, heard of these books.

They didn’t know who they belonged to and someone thought that they might have been Egyptian.

We were asked to remove the books by the end of March. A truck full of 170 boxes of books was schlepped to Chatswood to a storage unit supplied by a generous donor, while AJHS tried to work out what to do with them.

Although supporting Yiddish is not part of AJHS’ objectives, we felt that we needed to make an effort to find the collection a permanent heym.

Catalogue page

We could not find any catalogue of the books, so we tried to create one. Here the challenge was finding Yiddish speakers who could translate and transcribe titles and authors into a database.

We had heard of the Yiddish Book Centre /www.yiddishbookcenter.org (YBC) in Amherst Mass, which has become the home of Yiddish books. Funded by Steven Spielberg, YBC is gathering Yiddish books from all over the world and digitising them to help keep the Yiddish language alive.

Even with YBC’s list of 11,000 digitised titles, we still needed Yiddish speakers to help us identify the books.

One Sunday, a roster of Yiddish speakers including Harry Oppermann who came from Canberra especially, Diana Perla, Yankel Koncepolski and Miriam Rosenman plus a team of mature age Yiddish mavens gathered by Peter Bando lined up for two-hour shifts and, with a team of girls from Masada, we started cataloguing.

Many hours later we had opened only 1,000 books and identified less than 200 from the YBC list. The

Peter Philippsohn

creation of a catalogue was not going to be a small task.

Melbourne has a vibrant Yiddish community based at the Kadimah Cultural Centre/www.kadimah.org.auin Elsternwick. AJHS offered to contribute towards sending the books to Melbourne, But Kadimah estimated that they already had 99% of the books. The effort involved in someone from Kadimah coming and sorting through the boxes and piles to find that 1% was just too great.

Consequently, AJHS decided that we should extract all the religious books and send them to the Chevra Kadisha for burial.

Also, a copy of any book that had been published in Australia or had an Australian author or theme would be kept in Sydney at AJHS. Finding these needles in the haystack became a mission for Velvel Lederman who was an enormous help.

This week, we have been advised that YBC will fund the relocation of the remainder to the USA.

But before the books leave aoystralye,we want to give any Yiddish reader a chance to come to Chatswood and take as many as they like.

If you are interested, please email president@ajhs.com.au within the next week.



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