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Saul Hankin

Saul Hankin

Quality Assurance Archivist, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

B.A. in Judaic Studies and History, 2013

Describe your job responsibilities:
I work at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research as a quality assurance archivist on their Vilna Collections Project [an international project to preserve, digitize, and virtually reunite Jewish archival collections currently held in New York City and Vilnius, Lithuania through a dedicated web portal]. I check scans of documents against the physical originals to make sure that everything got scanned and got scanned well. I flag any documents that need re-scanning, and then add the re-scans to the digital collection.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I'm glad to play even a small role in this project of digitally reuniting these documents that were separated for so long after being saved at such great risk. When it's finished, researchers will be able to make use of the collection as a whole for the first time since before the Holocaust. I count myself very lucky to have landed a job at YIVO, one of the Yiddish world's most important institutions, right out of school.

Tell us about studying at the Frankel Center:
It's incredible how many scholars in how many fields the Frankel Center has on its roster. In my case, I couldn't have asked for a better place to learn the Yiddish language, its literature, and the history of its speakers; there aren't many universities that offer three years of Yiddish language instruction, or have such an embarrassment of riches in Yiddish scholars. And even professors I never took a class with could teach me a thing or two in the department's weekly Yiddish leyenkrayz (reading circle).

How did your education prepare you for your current job?
I first visited YIVO the summer before my senior year at Michigan, to do research in the Bund Archives for my honors history thesis. Four years later, I interviewed for a summer internship at YIVO, and they were impressed enough by that research to give me the task of processing the periodicals in the Bund Archives. That internship put me on their radar and helped me land my current job. None of that happens without the education in Yiddish and Jewish history that I received at Michigan.

Who are some of the UM professors who inspired you?
I can't whittle the list down any shorter than this:
• Anita Norich (now "retired," though she doesn't like that word): A delightfully wry and engaging teacher in English, and even more so in Yiddish 202. Apart from being incisive, her scholarship is some of the most readable I've ever encountered.
• Mikhail Krutikov: Another teacher of Yiddish literature who I also got to spend time with in a Yiddish-language setting (Yiddish 201). He was the primary engine of the leyenkrayz, and I think I learned just as much from him there as in class. More than any other teacher I had, he impressed me with just how much of the literature and the authors' biographies he's read, and made me come away thinking that I should read more.
• Julian Levinson: I'm sad never to have had him as a Yiddish language teacher because of how animated and gregarious he is in English-language classes. He makes every student in a room feel comfortable speaking up, and always seems so excited when we do. I recently had the pleasure and privilege of being a research assistant on his latest Yiddish project, which was like a mini-course in itself.
• Zvi Gitelman (another "retired" professor who objects to that label): I'm even sadder never to have had Gitelman for any class at all, but he was another one who taught me plenty in the leyenkrayz. He continually astonishes with his command of languages and texts, and I used one of his anecdotes about the Bundists he met in New York in the conclusion of my senior thesis.


What advice would you give to students who are considering studying Judaic Studies?
There's a great variety of jobs in the Jewish world. While working on my senior thesis, I decided that the research-and-writing life of a professor wasn't for me, and ultimately settled on the path of an archivist. Frankel prepared me just fine for that. If it's a "Jewish job" you want some day, think and search broadly and be confident that Frankel has just the right teachers to train you up.