Moshe Lazar has a penchant for literature, an affinity evident in the sheer volume of books that comprise his personal library. As much as he prizes his carefully assembled collection, he also has a penchant for philanthropy and has been continually sharing his printed wealth with others.
Over the last six years, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences professor of comparative literature and drama has donated more than 15,000 books to USC Libraries.
“Moshe said he was downsizing his office,” said Melinda Hayes, head of Special Collections at USC Libraries. “The first two books were donated in October 2005, and the next year he gave us 25 books. He’s been steadily giving us books every year since then.”
The Moshe Lazar Collection encompasses everything from French and Provençal literature to books about anti-Semitism. One of the rarest – and most expensive – books he donated is a facsimile of the Alba Bible, valued at $50,000.
“But the collection as a whole is valued much higher than the Alba Bible,” Hayes said. “It’s not often that we get a collection as large and broad as Moshe’s.”
The breadth of the Lazar Collection reflects the storied life of the recently retired professor. Born in Romania and raised in Belgium, Lazar was a product of four wars. He and his family spent several years in French concentration camps during World War II, a fact that not only shaped his worldview but also propelled him to where he is today.
After receiving a master’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, he taught at Tel Aviv University in Israel before coming to USC in 1977 as visiting professor in the theatre department.
In 1979, Lazar was appointed chairman of the comparative literature department, where he remained as a professor until his retirement this month.
“Simply put, he is a man of books,” said his wife, Sonia, who recounted how her husband would buy books wherever his travels took him.
With his keen appreciation for the written word, Lazar made the decision to share his books and papers with future generations of the Trojan Family. Although he could have given his treasures anywhere, he chose to strengthen the holdings of USC Libraries.
In his years here, Lazar realized the best way to help USC Libraries was to add to it.
Fifteen thousand books later, it looks like he’s accomplished that goal.
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