It was a tiny advertisement in an online Yiddish publication that first caught Thomas Kleiner’s attention, and within days, the retired Protestant minister was on board a flight from Germany to Israel.
What he learned in that advertisement was that the Tel Aviv municipal library would be giving away its entire Yiddish book collection – an opportunity, from his standpoint at least, that could not be missed. “I came with an empty suitcase, and I plan to fill it entirely with these books,” says Kleiner, who hails from Dusseldorf, where he began learning Yiddish about five years ago. What he’s mainly in the market for, he reports, are Yiddish-language biographies and diaries.
It’s not everyday that a library gives away a collection of 5,000 books. But as Miriam Posner, the director of Beit Ariela explains, there are few customers for them these days. “About two years ago, we moved all our Yiddish books from the main library down to the storage room, but we simply don’t have the means to maintain and preserve them anymore,” she says. “There are other institutions that still have Yiddish collections, and we were happy to donate many of our books to them as well.”
Posner notes that before the Yiddish books had been moved into storage, only 14 had been checked out from the library over the course of an entire year.
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