News | February 28, 2024

Yiddish Book Center Announces Retirement of Founder and President Aaron Lansky

Yiddish Book Center

Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center with Susan Bronson, executive director

The Yiddish Book Center has announced that Aaron Lansky, the organization’s founder and MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant' winner, will retire from his role as president in June 2025. 

Susan Bronson, the Center’s long-time executive director, will assume the position of president. Following his retirement, Lansky will remain at the Center for two years as senior advisor. 

Lansky founded the Yiddish Book Center in 1980, when he took what he thought would be a two-year leave of absence from graduate school to recover endangered Yiddish books. The primary, tangible legacy of a thousand years of Jewish life, irreplaceable Yiddish books were being discarded by relatives unable to read the language of their Yiddish-speaking parents and grandparents. When Lansky and his colleagues first set out to save Yiddish books, scholars estimated 70,000 volumes could still be found. 

With the help of volunteer zamlers (collectors), Lansky recovered that number in the first six months and went on to save 1.5 million volumes in a major cultural rescue effort. As new technology emerged, the found titles were digitized and have since been downloaded more than five million times. 

“When all is said and done," he said, "I was able to act on my dreams, save a literature, and reclaim a culture, and that, I think, makes me one of the world’s luckiest people. The Center will continue to flourish under the strong leadership of Susan Bronson and the work of our extraordinary team.”

The Yiddish Book Center has evolved into an internationally renowned cultural and educational center, sharing Yiddish language, literature, and culture with new audiences. Noteworthy initiatives include educational programs for learners of all ages, fellowship programs, an oral history project, a publishing imprint, and a textbook that has transformed Yiddish language learning. The Center has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. 

Susan Bronson joined the Center as executive director in 2010. In her newly created role, she expanded the Center’s initiatives to include popular programs such as Yidstock, the annual festival of new Yiddish music; reading groups for public libraries, which engage readers with translated works of Yiddish literature; and the new permanent exhibition Yiddish: A Global Culture, which has attracted thousands of visitors since opening last fall. Her stellar track record, marked by bold and strategic initiatives, makes her a fitting successor to Lansky. 

Bronson is on the Board of the Council of American Jewish Museums, where she served as chair from 2018–2022, and on the Board of 7000 Languages, an organization dedicated to saving and teaching indigenous languages. She received her doctorate in Russian and Jewish history from the University of Michigan.  
Commenting on her appointment, Bronson said: “I am humbled and excited to lead the Yiddish Book Center into its next chapter. Aaron’s legacy is profound, and I am committed to building upon his work, ensuring that the Yiddish Book Center remains a beacon for cultural preservation and education.”