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YIVO Encyclopedia Makes Its Debut as the Definitive Reference Work on Jews in Eastern Europe




YIVO Encyclopedia Makes Its Debut

as the Definitive Reference Work on Jews in Eastern Europe


-- ‘The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe’ Captures Jewish History and Culture across Centuries and Countries --


NEW YORK, NY, MARCH 2008 - For the first time, the centuries-long history and culture of East European Jewry is presented in a reference work representing seven years of research and collaborative scholarly effort. An unprecedented two-volume, 2,400-page resource makes its debut this month as “The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe,” published by Yale University Press. This work systematically represents the history and culture of Eastern European Jews from their first settlement in the region to the present day, reflecting on the ancestry of the vast majority of Jews in the world today.


The YIVO Encyclopedia contains more than 1,800 alphabetical entries that encompass a vast range of topics, including religion, folklore, politics, art, music, theater, language and literature, places, organizations, intellectual movements, and important figures. The two-volume set features more than 1,000 illustrations with fifty-seven color plates, and more than fifty maps. Entries range from brief identifications to in-depth essays covering several topics.


The text covers the region between Germany and the Ural Mountains, from which more than 2.5 million Jews emigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1920, a pattern which continues today with the majority of Jewish immigrants to North America arrive from Eastern Europe. Engaging, wide-ranging, and authoritative, this work is a rich and essential reference for readers with interests in Jewish studies and Eastern European history and culture.


“The Encyclopedia presents a living history of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe in terms of their lifestyles, cultures, struggles, and accomplishments,” says Carl Rheins, Executive Director of YIVO “Of the more than 13 million Jews worldwide (including over 6 million in the U.S., 5 million in Israel and more than 650,000 in Eastern Europe), many seek information about their origins and the lives of their ancestors, but surprisingly, no publication has ever attempted to systematically represent the entire historical legacy of this culture until now.”


The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe reflects the enormous diversity of East European Jews and provides information that may be unfamiliar or usual to most American Jews, such as the creation of a Soviet Jewish “homeland” with Yiddish as its official language in Siberia in 1928; a Jewish woman named Rozsika Schwimmer was the world’s first female ambassador, having been appointed Hungarian ambassador to Switzerland in 1918; or that during the nineteenth century, Jews had the highest divorce rates in the Russian Empire, with more than 80 percent of marriages ending in divorce.  The YIVO Encyclopedia analyzes the tale of a famous Polish king in the fourteenth century, who was persuaded by his Jewish mistress to invite Jews to settle in his kingdom and grant them extensive rights and privileges; to this day several Polish towns claim to be the site of her burial.  The book further reports that in 1794, Berek Joselewicz organized the first Jewish army unit since the revolt against Rome in 135 CE to fight against the Russians and protect Polish independence. 


“No publication has ever attempted to systematically represent the entire historical legacy of Eastern European Jewry,” adds Bruce Slovin, Chairman of YIVO.  “It is the authoritative reference for scholars and those seeking information regarding the origins of their lives and those of their ancestors.”


“The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe” provides an authoritative reference for scholars in such fields as Jewish Studies, Modern European Studies, and Slavic Studies. The volumes also present East Europeans with a much-needed resource for studying aspects of their national histories that were neglected and even suppressed for decades under the Soviet system. It covers the geographical parameters of the regions east of Germany, north of the Balkans, and west of the Ural Mountains, borders corresponding roughly to today's Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and the Baltic States. Entries cover events, people, places, and related topics from the earliest Jewish settlements in this region to 2000.


Furthermore, as the study of the Holocaust becomes more established in American and European high schools and universities, there is a growing recognition within the field that the Holocaust needs to be placed within a broader framework of knowledge about the people and culture destroyed by the Nazis. The YIVO encyclopedia will offer the general public a high quality comprehensive resource for learning about pre-war Jewish life.


The YIVO Encyclopedia assembled an internationally recognized group of scholars to serve as editors and contributors, spearheaded by Editor in Chief Gershon David Hundert, Leanor Segal Professor of Jewish Studies and Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University and managed by YIVO project director Jeffrey Edelstein. The reference work not only provided a forum for scholarly collective knowledge and exchange, but also served as a communal meeting point for a new generation of scholars from former Communist Europe to interact with their colleagues from North America, Israel and Western Europe. The original content was compiled by an international team of 450 distinguished scholars, including Ruth R. Wisse, Harvard University; Paula Hyman, Ivan G. Marcus and the late Victor Erlich, Yale University; Abraham Ascher, CUNY Graduate Center; Michael A. Meyer, Hebrew Union College; Dan Miron and Michael Stanislawski, Columbia University; David G. Roskies, Jewish Theological Seminary; David Engel and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University; Jan T. Gross, Princeton University; and Antony Polonsky, Brandeis University, among  others.


Funding for this $3 million project was provided by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc., Slovin Family Foundation, Charles H. Revson Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, Double H Foundation, Koret Foundation Funds, Alvin Segal Family Foundation, and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, along with individual donors.


The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the history and culture of Ashkenazi Jewry and to its influence in the Americas. It is the world’s preeminent resource center for East European Jewish Studies; Yiddish language, literature, and folklore; the Holocaust; and the American Jewish immigrant experience. To order a set of “The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe,” which retails for $400, visit the Yale University Press Web site at or call 1-800-405-1619.


 Media Contact:  Cathy Callegari – 212-579-1370 or