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Center Recovers Lost Treasure of Yiddish Music

Workers from the National Yiddish Book Center in this Massachusetts town have recovered a treasure-trove of almost 85,000 folios of out-of-print Jewish music from a garage in Boro Park, Brooklyn, it was announced here.

The collection, which includes long out-of-print “hits” from the Yiddish theater, songs of the Jewish pioneers in Israel, Yiddish folksongs and cantorial scores, is believed-to-represent the largest single inventory of Yiddish music anywhere in the world.

Virtually all of the music was published by Metro Music, a well-known music publisher on New York’s Lower East Side. When Metro Music went out of business in the early 1970’s, its entire unsold stock was purchased on speculation by a group of private investors. The Metro Music building was eventually demolished, and the collection of sheet music was stored in a succession of New York City locations.

The ownership of the materials finally passed to Sidney Rimmer, a part-time cantor who works as a computer auditor for the City of New York. Rimmer believed that preservation of the music was a mitzvah, regardless of its commercial value. With the help of friends, he cleared out the two-car garage behind his home in Boro Park, a primarily Hasidic section of Brooklyn, where he packed away the thousands of folios of sheet music, hoping that someday they would be of interest once again. The materials remained in Rimmer’s garage for the next 13 years.

Last month, news of the treasure reached Rabbi Aryeh Gotlieb of Paramus, New Jersey. A long-time lover of both Yiddish and cantorial music, Gotlieb travelled to Boro Park to investigate. He took one look at Rimmer’s garage and immediately recognized the historic significance of the long-lost collection.

Gotlieb phoned Aaron Lansky, executive director of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, a non-profit organization which has rescued almost a half million unwanted and discarded books during the last seven years.

Lansky, 31, responded immediately to Gotlieb’s call. He phoned Rimmer and arranged for the entire collection to be donated to the Center, where it could be properly stored and catalogued. A truck was dispatched to New York, and staff members and student interns worked for two days in the summer heat emptying the garage, loading the truck and transported the sheet music to the Center’s 18,000-squarefoot Yiddish Book Annex in Holyoke, Mass.

“This is one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the Center’s history,” said Lansky, upon reviewing the collection. “These 85,000 folios will be an incomparable boon to students, scholars and lovers of Jewish music around the world.”

Workers at the Yiddish Book Center are now sorting the music, entering titles and inventory into a computerized data base. Although cataloguing will not be completed for another two months, hundreds of titles have already been identified.

They include favorites from the Yiddish theater, work songs and ballads from the Jewish pioneers in Palestine, songs by Yiddish writers such as Moyshe Nadir and Itzik Manger, Yiddish renditions of arias from Italian operas, and liturgical classics by many of the greatest cantors of Europe and the United States.

The Center has announced plans to distribute thousands of duplicate copies of the sheet music at nominal cost to libraries, universities and the general public. A complete, annotated catalogue will be available free of charge in early November. Further information can be obtained from Paula Parsky, Bibliographer, National Yiddish Book Center, Old East Street School, Amherst, MA 01004.

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