If you have read his book Outwitting History, you know something about his story. As a graduate student he began collecting Yiddish books, often as Yiddish speaking elders or their children were disposing of their libraries. Many of his more colorful stories related to rescues that began with a middle of the night phone call on a rainy night alerting him to a dumpster filled with Yiddish books. Food also seemed to be a theme as each stop at a home entailed eating their way through offerings of Jewish delicacies before beginning their labor of book removal. As I listened to the reverence in which these books were held by the original owners, I thought of the groaning shelves of books that I grew up with. While not Yiddish books, I suspect they grew out of that same reverence, something deeply rooted in Jewish culture.
Lansky talked of their efforts to digitize the books to make them widely available. This effort was largely funded by Steven Spielberg consistent with his efforts to preserve both survivor stories and the stories of Jewish heritage. More recently they are working to apply optical character recognition (OCR) to be able to make them searchable. And of course this comes with a story. Lansky was contacted out of the blue by Assaf Urieli, a gentleman who lives in the French Pyrenees and created Yiddish OCR to aid in searching information on his ancestors. He offered this tool free of charge to the Center, a tool which can revolutionize Yiddish scholarship.