Nathaniel Popper reports that five staff members were fired this month, including the only employee who knew how to type and edit documents in Yiddish.
Others dismissed were Fern Kant, who was two-thirds finished archiving Hebrew Actors Union materials; she will leave it uncompleted. Another laid-off employee had been there for decades, pulling material for researchers from the YIVO library.
“He knew the location of every journal and every book in the library,” Kant said. “I can’t imagine the library section functioning without him.”Three YIVO board members also resigned.
The problems at YIVO, one of the largest libraries and archives of Yiddish material in the world, are connected to the stock market dive, and the drying up of donor funds. But the recent turmoil also stems from financial disagreements among YIVO’s leadership. At a board meeting February 11, a number of members asked the chairman of the board, Bruce Slovin, to resign, accusing him of a conflict of interest.Fundraising difficulties have highlighted problems in the five organizations forming the Center for Jewish History, which has operated under a deficit for many years. A proposed merger with New York University failed after member groups opposed the plan.
Two other members, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Yeshiva University Museum, are also facing layoffs. Problems have increased because the Center has asked the members to pay increased rent to stay in the building.
The negotiations over this annual rent have been particularly tense at YIVO because the chairman of YIVO, Slovin, is also the founder and chairman of the center. Several members of YIVO’s board have called this a conflict of interest and one of those members, Abramson, said that when the interests of YIVO and the center have conflicted, Slovin has regularly sided with the center against YIVO.In addition to board tensions, layoffs were necessary because of the recession, and YIVO executive director Carl Rheins said that the generosity and size of gifts by major donors will not be the same.
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