This Week in JPL History: Please come in – the Library’s YIFO

This card was used to advertise the 1945-1946 YIFO semester

From its founding the Jewish Public Library was intended to be more than merely a place where books lived. It was meant to be a place of reading and of education. In June of 1914, one month     after the founding of the library, Reuben Brainin proudly wrote “[a]fter much laborious work, and after persevering efforts and activity, I have succeeded in finally founding a Jewish Public Library and University.”

The Yiddish People’s University (or YIFO) had its heyday in the 40’s and 50’s starting with the arrival of Melech Ravitch in Monteal in 1941. During this time the YIFO’s list of lecturers included some very impressive names like, Irving Layton, Jacob Zipper, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, J.I. Segal, Ghitta Caiserman, A.M. Klein, and many many more.

Courses included a broad range of topics, from English, Yiddish, and French classes, to Ancient Greek philosophy, to Canadian and Natural History, to even courses on birth control! Classes usually lasted an hour and would be from 10 to 30 sessions in length. Students would pre-register for the courses, and the fee per lecture was set at 25¢.

The Yiddish side of the card advertising the 1945-1946 semester of the YIFO

The mandate of YIFO was to provide systematic education of the Jewish people’s. It allowed members of the community access to a level of education they may not have otherwise. In one flyer the YIFO stated “Knowledge – mankind’s most precious possession – is yours for the asking.”

The JPL continues the spirit of open education today by offering Yiddish classes for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level students. Past lecture include “Encounter of Two Cultures: Quebec and Jewish Culture”, “Hebrew Literature in Translation”, “A Kabbalist in Montreal: The Life and Times of Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg”, “Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza”, and “Canadian Yiddish and Similar Languages: Yesterday and Now”.  For more information about our Yiddish language courses contact Leticia Cuenca at leticia.cuenca @

The This Week in Jewish Public Library History blog series was made possible through the generous support of the Peter and Ellen Jacobs Virtual Archives Fund.

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