Grant launches series celebrating immigrant experiences

  • Librarian Anne Baker Jones trained at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, to bring that organization's "Coming to America" series to Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire.

    Librarian Anne Baker Jones trained at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, to bring that organization's "Coming to America" series to Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire. Courtesy of Vernon Area Public Library

 
Submitted by Rebecca Ferguson
Updated 3/3/2020 12:24 PM

How immigrants change America and how America changes immigrants are the questions behind a new program series at Vernon Area Public Library.

The library has been awarded a grant by the Amherst, Massachusetts, based Yiddish Book Center to launch "Coming to America," a slate of book discussions and events that explore the experiences of all immigrants, regardless of origin or native language.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Beginning in March, the public is invited to attend book discussions, movie screenings and lectures designed to inspire conversations about the immigrant experience. A community project this spring will record and preserve "first day" stories.

All programs are free and take place at the library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire. Registration is required.

The library's "Coming to America" series got its start when librarian Anne Baker Jones, a 33-year veteran at Vernon Area, was reading an Illinois Library Association email and noticed a grant announcement from the Yiddish Book Center.

"A light bulb went on," said Jones, whose father and grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe, where Yiddish was the everyday vernacular in Jewish communities.

"Yiddish is a fun and highly expressive language, and until the 1800s it was the language of the home, not of literature," Jones said.

Steeped in Yiddish culture as a child, Yiddish is central to her family's experience as newcomers to the United States. But she also realizes that her family's stories probably have a lot in common with those of other immigrants.

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Jones became intrigued by the idea of using Yiddish works in translation as a springboard to discuss the experiences of all who arrive in the United States seeking a new life, to find out how they're similar and different.

Of the 95 libraries around the nation that applied for the grant, 21 were selected, with Vernon Area among them.

Along with other grant awardees, Jones attended a two-day training session led by scholars Josh Lambert and Ilan Stavans, co-editors of a new essay collection titled "How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish."

Vernon Area Library's "Coming to America" series kicks off March 18 with a presentation about an early 20th century newspaper advice column called "A Bintel Brief," which provides a window into the day-to-day experiences of Jewish immigrants of the last century.

"It will be interesting to see how the problems described in these columns resonate with all immigrants," Jones said.

Other events this spring include discussions of two seminal works of 20th-century Yiddish literature: "Motl the Cantor's Son" by Sholem Aleichem and "Enemies, A Love Story" by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A "First Days" project invites all immigrants in the community to record and share their recollections of their arrivals in the United States. Film screenings include "Brooklyn" and "Hester Street."

The series continues later this year and will include discussions of "Girl in Translation" by Jean Kwok, about a mother and daughter who immigrate from Hong Kong, as well as a presentation about political asylum trends in the United States.

The Yiddish Book Center's "Coming to America" Reading Groups for Public Libraries supports librarians in arranging reading groups to discuss three books of Yiddish literature in translation and one book related to an immigrant community served by their library.

The program is made possible by a gift from Sharon Karmazin.

For more information about the series at Vernon Area Library, visit america.vapld.info.

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