National Yiddish Book Center receiving top library medal

Marcy Oster

BOSTON (JTA) — The National Yiddish Book Center was named one of 10 recipients of the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums.

First lady Michelle Obama will present the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to the center at a White House ceremony on May 8, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which has bestowed the medal for 20 years.

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Other winners this year include the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Chicago Public Library and the North Carolina Museum of National Science. The winners were selected based on innovative approaches and exceptional commitment to their community. Among the past 132 recipients is the Simon Wiesenthal Center Library and Archives in Los Angeles.

“We are thrilled to accept this award, not only as a recognition of the Yiddish Book Center, but far more important as a tribute to the enduring nature of Yiddish itself,” said Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, located in Amherst, Mass.

Lansky, the organization’s president and award-winning author, founded the center in 1980 to preserve the nearly extinct language and its rich history of Yiddish literature. From humble beginnings, the center has grown to a collection of more than 1 million books. It has digitized and posted the full texts of 12,000 titles on the Internet, and established and strengthened Yiddish holdings at 60 university and research libraries around the world. The center is widely credited with helping to inspire a resurgence in interest in Yiddish and Yiddish culture.

In an email to JTA, Susan Hildrenth, the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, credited the Yiddish Book Center with “broadening the understanding of modern Jewish identity” and applauded the center’s use of technology to make Yiddish literature easily accessible.

The institute, located in Washington, D.C., is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.

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