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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 2, 2005

Lansky Reads About Saving Yiddish Literature Feb. 16 On WSUI

Aaron Lansky will read from his new book, "Outwitting History," the story of how he nearly single-handedly saved Yiddish literature from oblivion at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16 on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910.

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event at the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen on the Internet at

In "Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of A Man Who Rescued A Million Yiddish Books," Lansky describes how he toured Jewish neighborhoods collecting Yiddish books that were being tossed out. He and a team of volunteers salvaged books from dusty attics, crumbling basements, demolition sites and dumpsters. When they began, scholars thought that fewer than 70,000 Yiddish books existed, but so far 1.5 million volumes have been saved.

As Publishers Weekly preview explained, "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. . . . 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."

Donna Seaman wrote for Booklist, "Lansky has been written about, but there's no substitute for his own upbeat and profoundly moving account of his adventures and success in preventing the extinction of a uniquely expressive language and literature of survival."

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