YANKEV (IACOB, JACOB) PSANTER (June 6, 1820-March 22, 1900)
He was born in Botoșani. For a time his father served as an interpreter to the French consul in Jassy (Iași). His father died in 1831 and the family moved to Iași, where Psanter began studying at the Talmud Torah. He also studied Hebrew and acquainted himself with the Romanian language. At thirteen he mastered how to play the cymbal, and later he joined some gypsies, became their leader, and wandered across Romania, visiting Turkey and learning the Turkish language. During his wanderings he engaged in debates with a gypsy about the Jews. It was on account of this that he decided, as he wrote: “One immense work to undertake and collect documents so that I can write a history of the Jews in Romania…. I have excavated with my own hands old tombstones, copied the most important of them, and written them down in my books.” The first volume appeared under the title Divre yamim leartsot rumenye (Chronicles of the lands of Romania) (Iași: H. Goldner, 1871), 224 pp. He demonstrated how the Jews settled in Romania (referred to as “Datshi” [Dacia] in his sub-title) from after the destruction of the first Temple to contemporary times. The second volume appeared with the title Korot hayehudim berumenye (History of the Jews in Romania) (Lemberg, 1873), and it contains a history of Romanian Jewry from King Stephen VI until the era of the appearance of the book at hand. He dedicated ten pages in the first part of it to the Romanian language, pointing to its Hebrew and Aramaic elements. A shortened version of Psanter’s work was translated by Adolf Manuel Weitzenberg as Maskereth “Zion” (Remembering Zion) (Bucharest, 1877), 37 pp., with a dedication by Moses Montefiore and others and was distributed among various scholars and politicians after the Russo-Turkish War, when the question of the rights of Jews in Romania was on the agenda. Psanter’s history laid the groundwork for Jewish historiography in Romania. The author’s personal situation was not good at all. In 1874 he was welcomed into the group “Tsiyon” (Zion) which supported him a bit. Returning to Bucharest in 1875, he again linked up with his musician colleagues. The last years of his life, he lived in the Bucharest old-age home, of which he was a cofounder. Because the trustees did not want later to recognize his service on behalf of the institution, he led a struggle against them in the Romanian Yiddish press, even publishing a book: Seyfer zikhroynes oder byografishe beshraybung fun di alte layt vos zenin oyfgenemen gevoren in bukarester azil (bate maḥse lezekenim) fom yahre 1880 biz ende des yahres 1890 (Memoirs or biographical description of the old folks who were taken into the Bucharest asylum [old age homes] from 1880 until the end of 1890) (Bucharest, 1890), 20 pp. + 208 pp. This volume was composed in a fine Yiddish, although not without Germanisms and Romanianisms, aimed at demonstrating the role of the author in the founding of the asylum. The book is also interesting in terms of Psanter’s biography and for the history of Jews in Romania. Among his other works is one entitled Hakosem (The magician)—in Hebrew with a translation into Romanian—published in Craiova in 1886, and second work about religious tolerance in Romania remains in manuscript form.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; M. A. Halevi, in Historishe shriftn (Vilna, YIVO) 2 (1937), pp. 524-30; Ben-Meyer, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 5 (1937), pp. 411-12; M. Laks, in Ikuf (Bukarest) (1946); L. M. Benjamin, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (July 22, 1947); Itsik Manger, Noente geshtaltn, skitsn vegn yidishe shrayber-geshtaltn (Close images, sketches of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1961), p. 40.