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AMHERST, Mass. (RNS) The National Yiddish Book Center has received an unexpected gift of $3 million from comedy writer Mickey Ross, who died in May without any known connection to the one-of-its-kind library.
The gift from Ross, who worked on television shows such as “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Three’s Company,” was a surprise and is the largest in the 30-year-old Book Center’s history.
“As far as we know, Mickey Ross never visited here and we never met face-to-face,” said Aaron J. Lansky, founder and president of the center.
Since its creation, the Yiddish Book Center has rescued a million endangered Yiddish books, strengthened collections at libraries worldwide, digitized and posted online the full texts of 11,000 Yiddish volumes, and offered a range of programs.
Nancy L. Sherman, the center’s executive vice president, said center officials had learned several months ago that it had been named in Ross’ will, but it was not until recently they learned the amount of the gift.
“Until the check arrived, we didn’t know how large it was going to be,” Sherman said.
The center was aware of Ross because he was known as a Jewish philanthropist with an interest in Yiddish language and culture, she said. “There aren’t many people like that around,” Sherman said.
The gift will go directly to the center’s endowment, providing financial stability and program support as the organization expands its work from rescuing old books to education. The center’s current endowment was approximately $8 million and it grew to $11 million with the gift, Sherman said. Its annual budget is about $3.5 million.
Some of the programs the gift will make possible are the appointment of a full-time Yiddish language instructor who will design and teach intensive Yiddish courses, both online and on-site.
“Our intention is to create a Yiddish university for the hands-on exploration of Jewish language, history and culture. In this way, Mickey Ross’s gift is transformative,” Lansky said.
Ross, who died at age 89 of complications from a stroke and a heart attack, last year created the Michael and Irene Ross Program in Jewish Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, his alma mater, with a $4 million gift to endow a chair in Yiddish language and culture.
Ross’s wife, Irene, died in 2000. They had no children.

— Nancy Gonter
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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