Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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14
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
decision to establish a Jewish public library “for the advance­
ment of Jewish learning and of Yiddish literature in particular.”
Thus the combined libraries of the Poale Zion and Dorshai
Zion formed the nucleus of the Library, to which later was added
the library of the Baron de Hirsch Institute. On March 3, 1912,
as stated above, the Library first opened in its first location, a
rented store. It was soon apparent, however, that the subscriptions
of the labor organizations were insufficient to support the Library
and it was closed temporarily until firmer financial foundations
could be laid.
In May, 1914, the Library re-opened with a total number of
449 volumes. During the next twelve months, a book drive
garnered an additional three hundred books which, with other
donations and purchases, raised the number to 1,540 volumes.
The majority of these books were written in Yiddish; the re­
mainder in English, French, Russian and Hebrew. Books in
Yiddish predominated until the mid-1930’s. Since then, the
percentage has declined to its present proportion of approximately
one-third of the Library’s contents. In 1914, despite limited
funds, the Library made its first purchase of old and rare
Hebrew books, a crystallization of its determination to encom­
pass all aspects of Jewish culture.
In 1914, too, the Library inaugurated a program of lectures
and literary events at which both English and Yiddish-speaking
Jewish scholars, authors and poets were the lecturers. The majori­
ty were Yiddish programs and the guests included B. G. Sack,
author of
The History of the Jews in Canada,
Maurice Samuel
and Irving Layton. This program continued as an integral part
of the Library’s policy, and to-day the many autographed works
of these lecturers, together with Library purchases, form the
Library’s renowned collection of Yiddish material. Few such
significant collections are extant because of the almost total
destruction of Yiddish writings in Nazi Europe.
The importance of Yiddish letters to the Library is illustrated
in a letter dated 1919 from the Yiddish poet, Morris Rosenfeld,
several times a guest speaker at the Library. “I have received . . .
your fourth and fifth annual repo r ts . . . it has truly surprised
me. If you think the immigrant Jews of New York who speak
and read Yiddish possess anything in the nature of your folk’s
bibliothek, you are in error, for they do not.” This quotation
illustrates the position already achieved by the Jewish Public
Library as a supporter of Yiddish literature, a status still main­
tained.
Although uncertain finances were a perennial problem, the
Library carried on successfully until 1923. In that year it was