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Bassin Collection

The Bassin Collection of Hebraica and Yiddica at the York College Library.

In May 1973, York College President Milton G. Bassin donated 495 volumes to the York College Library, most of which were written in either Hebrew or Yiddish, with some also in Aramaic. Many of the titles are multi-volume, including two Talmuds. The books belonged to his father, Max Bassin (who was sometimes referred to as Morris, Moses, or Moshe), and they contain a special bookplate. Other books in Hebrew and Yiddish were added to the collection over the years, and the "Bassin Collection of Hebraica and Yiddica" is still shelved together in the Library's archive room as a special, non-circulating collection.

Milton G. Bassin, York College President Emeritus

Milton G. Bassin, York College President Emeritus, in 2007
(Photo by Eric S. Tyrer, II)

The Bassin Collection currently contains 336 titles (600 volumes), and you can view the records for them in the Library's online catalog.

For more on the Collection, see the article by Professors Scott Sheidlower and John Drobnicki in the March 2008 issue of Academic Affairs Update.

Bassin bookplate

Bassin bookplate

Who was Max Bassin?

Moshe Bassin was born on 15 March 1889 in Nivki, a shtetl in what was then known as White Russia (now Belarus).

He was educated in a heder, and then was self-taught, encouraged to read Yiddish literature by his mother and grandfather. Bassin joined the Russian army in 1907, where he engaged in propaganda and revolutionary agitation among fellow soldiers.

When his activities were uncovered later in 1907, he deserted the army and moved to the United States. Bassin began writing songs and poetry in 1908, and was hired by the Arbeter in 1909.

Moshe Bassin

Moshe Bassin

(Photo from Bassin's American Yiddish Poetry: Anthology)

Beginning in 1910, he began to contribute essays, poetry, songs, and children's fairy tales to Fraye Arbeyter ShtimeLiteraturShriftnNaya HaymVorhatyTog; and Yidisher Kemfer, and became widely known for his cycle of verses about the Baal Shem Tov. (Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. [Macmillan Reference USA in association with the Keter Publishing House, 2007], Vol. III, 209; Encyclopedia of Russian Jewry [Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and Israel-Russian Encyclopedia Center, 1996], Vol. I, 117; Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur [Alveltlekhn Yidishn Kultur-Kongres, 1956], Vol. I, 228. Thanks to Yeshaya Metal of YIVO for the LNYL translation.)

Moshe Bassin

Moshe Bassin
(Photo courtesy of Milton G. Bassin)

To supplement his work as a poet, Bassin also sold insurance. His scholarly work, however, was as an anthologist. Bassin's two-volume work Antologye: finf hundert yohr Idishe poezye [Anthology: Five Hundred Years of Yiddish Poetry] (Dos Idishe Bukh, 1917-1922) has been described by Yiddish scholar Kathryn Hellerstein as "a monumental collection of poets in Yiddish from 1410 to 1916" (SHOFAR 9 [Summer 1991]: 10). His other major anthology was Amerikaner yidishe poezye: antologye [American Yiddish Poetry: Anthology] (A. Komitet, 1940). Moshe Bassin died on 10 July 1963 in Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 74. According to his New York Times obituary, Bassin had been busy editing a multi-volume anthology, A Treasury of Yiddish Literature, which has never been published. His papers, including the materials he collected for his unpublished anthology, are held by YIVO.

Compiled by Prof. John A. Drobnicki, York College/CUNY.

Bassin's American Yiddish Poetry

Title page illustration by Judah Tofel for Bassin's American Yiddish Poetry: Anthology
(image from the website of the National Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, MA)