In 2010, we partnered with the Yiddish Book Center in their search for an Executive Director. We placed Susan Bronson in the position, and 13 years later reconnected with her on her time at the Yiddish Book Center, and what is on the horizon.
What initially attracted you to the Executive Director role at the Yiddish Book Center?
When I learned about the Executive Director position at the Yiddish Book Center, I was instantly excited by the opportunity. I hold a PhD in Russian and Jewish history and spent my career to that point working in both academic non-profits and in the museum and cultural world. I am also the granddaughter of Yiddish speaking immigrants. The position seemed like the perfect marriage of my personal background, my academic background, and my work in arts management. Once I visited the Center for my first interview with Aaron Lansky, the Center’s founder and president, I knew it was the place for me. We had an immediate personal rapport, the Center itself is a beautiful and impressive space, and there were a lot of opportunities for growth.
What do you enjoy most about the Yiddish Book Center now?
There are a number of things I love about the Center, but most of all there is a positive energy and an entrepreneurial spirit. For the thousands of people who support the Center’s mission to rescue, preserve, and disseminate Yiddish literature and culture to new generations, the cause is deeply personal. For the many young people who participate in all of our programs, there is an enthusiasm and passion that gives all of us who work at the Center hope for the future. And I am fortunate to work with a wonderful Board and staff.
How has your role changed since you began?
My role has expanded dramatically as the Center has grown. In the twelve years that I have been there, our staff has grown from 23 to nearly 40 and our budget has grown from $3 million to nearly $8 million. Obviously, this represents a significant expansion in programming. My work has become much more engaged with big picture strategy and is much more externally focused than when I began— more fundraising, more work with partner organizations.
What have been your and the Yiddish Book Center greatest achievements over the past thirteen years?
In addition to the Center’s significant growth, I would highlight several achievements. The Center was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Services— we went to the White House where Michelle Obama presented the award. We completed a $50 million comprehensive campaign which included bequest commitments which, when realized, will bring our endowment to more than $60 million. Those are some big things. But I’m also very proud of some many more specific programmatic achievements— we launched a wonderful music festival, Yidstock: the Festival of New Yiddish Music, which takes place every year; we created a beautiful new beginner Yiddish language textbook and a new publishing imprint to publish Yiddish literature in translation; we launched a program to work with public libraries across the country; we developed Yiddish optical character recognition (OCR) enabling full-text search of our digital library of Yiddish books; and we’re about to open a major new core exhibit at the Center— Yiddish: A Global Culture. There is so much it is hard to pick!
What do you hope to achieve at the Yiddish Book Center in the future? What is on the horizon?
We have big goals! The Center’s 50th anniversary is in seven years and we are planning another endowment campaign to secure the Center’s future. We have forged a partnership with the National Library of Israel, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the New York Public Library, to combine all of our holdings of Yiddish books and make them available through a single website. And we will continue to find ways to engage new audiences and engage new generations in Yiddish literature and culture through educational programs, translation, publishing and public programs. During this time of rising antisemitism, our work is more important than ever.