MORTKHE SHEKHTER (MORDKHE SCHAECHTER) (December 1, 1927-February 15, 2007)
A philologist and Yiddish language teacher, he was born in Czernowitz, descended from a secular Jewish family. Until 1940 he was a pupil in a Romanian school and high school. He studied Torah and writing Yiddish privately. In late 1944 he left for Bucharest, completed his baccalaureate in Shots (Suceava), and studied geography at the University of Bucharest. He studied Yiddish philology (1945-1946) with Khayim Gininger. He spent 1947-1951 at the Viennese displaced persons’ camp of Arzberger, while studying comparative linguistics at the University of Vienna, where in 1951 he received his doctoral degree: Aktionen im Jiddischen, ein sprachwissenschaftlicher Beitrag zur Bedeutungslehre des Verbums (Actions in Yiddish, a linguistic contribution to the meaning of the verb), (rpt., Ann Arbor, 1986). In late 1951 he settled in New York. Over the years 1958-1960, he taught Yiddish courses in the Jewish Theological Seminary; 1960-1975, he was a Yiddish teacher and later assistant professor of Yiddish at the Jewish teachers’ seminary (New York). From 1972 he was a lecturer in Yiddish language in the Linguistics Department of Columbia University. From 1951 he was active and a leader in the “Frayland League” (now, Yiddish League), and he was effectively the founder of “Yugntruf” (Youth for Yiddish). He was very active in helping to administer a uniform Yiddish spelling. He organized and directed (1966-1972) the Yiddish-speaking children’s club “Enge-benge” (for children ages six to fourteen). He helped to create several foundations to support Yiddish and Yiddish culture.
He debuted in print with an article in Afn shvel (At the threshold) (February-March 1948). Hew began writing on linguistic topics in 1951 in Yidishe shprakh (Yiddish language) in New York. He published mainly linguistic studies, but also journalism, reviews, memoirs, and folklore in: Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv; Davke (Necessarily) in Buenos Aires; Tsukunft (Future), Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO), Yugntruf, Almanakh yidish (Almanac Yiddish), and Yidisher folklore (Jewish folklore)—New York; and Maks vaynraykhn tsu zayn zibetsiksṭn geboyrntog, shṭudyes vegn shprakhn bay yidn, vegn yidishe literatur un gezelshaft (For Max Weinreich on his seventieth birthday, studies in Jewish languages, concerning Yiddish literature and society) (The Hague: Mouton, 1964); among others.
He edited: Afn shvel (from 1957 to 1964 with Avrom Kihn); Yidish-lebn (Yiddish life) (New York, 1957-1958); Yidishe shprakh (New York, from 1971). He co-edited: Yitskhok-nakhmen shteynberg-bukh (Volume for Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shteynberg) (New York, 1961); Mikhl Astur, Geshikhte fun der frayland-lige un funem teritoryalistishn gedank (History of the Freeland League and of the territorialist idea), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires-New York, 1967); Lifke Shekhter-Vidman, Durkhgelebt a velt (Survived a world) (New York, 1973); Maurice Samuel, In Praise of Yiddish (New York, 1973).
His longer works in Yidish shprakh include: “Di tushteygers in der yidisher shprakh” (Aspect in Yiddish) XII (1952); “Toponimik un verter-furemung bay d”r shloyme birnboym” (Toponyms and work formation according to Dr. Solomon Birnbaum) XXII (1962); “Nemen fun beymer un kshakes” (Names of trees and shrubs) XXVI (1966); “Dos loshn fun ‘sovetish heymland’” (The language of Sovetish heymland [Soviet homeland]) XXIX (1969-1970) and XXX (1971); “Der yivo un yidish” (YIVO and Yiddish) XXXIV (1975). Other major works include: “Mir shteyen nisht af an ort” (We are not remaining in place), Almanakh yidish (1961); “M. vaynraykhs tsushtayer tsum aroydvaks fun yidish” (Max Weinreich’s contribution to the growth of Yiddish), Di goldene keyt 50 (1964); and Tsum yidish fun morgn (On the Yiddish of tomorrow), Di goldene keyt 66 (1969); among other essays. All the unsigned material in Yidishe shprakh from 1971 and all the unsigned items in Afn shvel from 1957 were authored by Schaechter. He also published longer works in English-language materials, such as: “Four Schools of Thought in Yiddish Language Planning,” Michigan Germanic Studies 3.2 (1977), pp. 34-66; “The ‘Hidden Standard’: A Study of Competing Influences in Standardization,” in Field of Yiddish III, ed. Marvin Herzog (The Hague: Mouton, 1969), pp. 284-304; “Yiddish language modernization and lexical elaboration,” in Language Reform: History and Future, Vol. III, ed. Istvan Fodor (Hamburg: Helmut Buske, 1984).
In book form: Yidisher ortografisher vegvayzer (Guide to Yiddish orthography), with Max Weinreich (New York: Committee for the Implementation of the Standardized Yiddish Orthography, 1961), 109 pp.; Kurs fun yidisher ortografye, a konspekt (Course in Yiddish orthography, a synopsis) (New York: Committee for the Implementation of the Standardized Yiddish Orthography, 1972), 35 pp.; Mekoyrim un materyaln tsu hilf dem yidish-lerner (Sources and materials to help the Yiddish learner), with David Roskies (New York, 1974), 24 pp.; Mit a gutn apetit! a reshime gastronomishe terminen (East well! A listing of gastronomical terminology) (Hemden and New York, 1976), 25 pp.; Laytish mame-loshn, observatsyes un rekomendatsyes (Authentic Yiddish, observations and recommendations) (New York: Yidish-lige, 1986), 386 pp.; Yidish tsvey, a lernbikhl far mitndike kursn (Yiddish two, a textbook for mid-level courses) (Philadelphia, 1986). He also published a critical edition of Elyokum tsunzers verk (The works of Elyokum Tsunzer) (New York: YIVO, 1964), 2 vols. His pen names: A. Lemberiker and Motl Sher. He also prepared for publication terminological handbooks and standardized toponyms of Eastern European Yiddishland, among other writings. He died in the Bronx, New York.
Sources: Yitskhok Paner, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (1969); Arn Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 28, 1969); Lifke Shekhter-Vidman, Durkhgelebt a velt (Survived a world) (New York, 1973); R. Perl, in Yugntruf (New York) 31 (1974); Mortkhe Shekhter, Roshe-prokim fun an oytobyografye (Outline of an autobiography) (manuscript); Dov Sadan, Toyern un tirn, eseyen un etyudn (Gates and doors, essays and studies) (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1979), see index; Who Is Who in World Jewry (New York, 1965), p. 841.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 556-57.]