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Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Aug. 7, 1920 - Nov. 28, 2013

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Songwriter and poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman was for many years a key figure in maintaining Yiddish music and traditions in America. “Our singing is not a technically learned study,” she said. “It's just plain soul singing.” Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Chernovitz, Ukraine, 1936, courtesy Itzik Gottesman
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Sheet music for 'Fly, Fly, My Kite!' by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman ,courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Illustration in 'Fly, Fly, My Kite!' courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Sheet music for 'Fly, Fly, My Kite!' by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Sheet music for 'Fly, Fly, My Kite!' by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, photograph by Bob Burgess, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman and her ensemble, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman and her son, Itzik Gottesman, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, photograph by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman was born in Vienna, Austria, and raised in Chernovitz, Romania, which before World War II was a center of Yiddish culture. She became a key figure in maintaining Yiddish music and traditions in America. Her mother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, was a popular traditional Yiddish singer who had lived for several years in America and had intended to remain, but she returned to Europe for a visit and was stranded by the outbreak of World War I.

“I was born into a singing family,” Schaechter-Gottesman told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein. “I didn’t think too much about it; I just did it. Singing and songs were my first school. My mother was a great singer and knew many songs, and she was recorded in Yiddish, German, Ukrainian and many other languages. We spoke many languages because we come from a province that changed many times. It’s been part of Austria, Romania, Russia.”

Schaechter-Gottesman studied art in Vienna from 1936-38. In 1941, she married Dr. Jonas Gottesman. After surviving the war in the Chernovitz ghetto, Schaechter-Gottesman and her family lived in Vienna and Bucharest, Romania, before moving to the United States and settling in the Bronx, New York, in 1951, a year after her mother was finally able to return to America.

While teaching in afternoon secular Jewish schools in the 1950s and 1960s, Schaechter-Gottesman wrote several musical plays. Some of the children’s songs she wrote during this time became popular at Yiddish schools around the country. She established herself as an important writer of Yiddish poetry and songs that often treated modern, nontraditional themes.

The writer said she received inspiration from everyday activities such as riding the subway. “I always carry a pad of paper and sometimes a tape recorder. This is what makes me want to sing — the city is full of movement and full of happenings. I wrote the song ‘The Saxophone Player’ in the subway station. This is one of my later songs. I saw this man, a saxophone player, on the steps going down to the subway. Nobody listens to him really, but his song goes high above everybody. It is very touching. Theresa Tova sings this song, and this is the song about the city and subway life.”

Schaechter-Gottesman was a founder of Through the Shraybkrayz (writing circle) of the Jewish youth organization Yugntruf and served for many years as a mentor to participants. She recorded and performed widely, and her songs have been added to the repertoires of such acclaimed singers as Theodore Bikel, Adrienne Cooper, Michael Alpert and Lorin Sklamberg.

Of her music, Schaechter-Gottesman said, “It takes soul, a feeling. Our singing is not a technically learned study — it’s just plain soul singing. You sing out your joys, your longings. Instead of psychotherapy we have singing.”

Bibliography
Gottesman, Itzek. “The Yiddish Speaking Community in New York City. Conference Proceedings, Women and Yiddish Tribute to the Past Directions for the Future.” National Council of Jewish Women, New York Section Jewish Women’s Resource Center.
Moss, Jordan. “Folklorists Honor Norwood Woman in Yiddish.” Norwood News (December 1998). Schneider, Andreas. “National Award for Local Yiddish Poet.” Norwood News (September 2005). Van Gelder, Lawrence. “Arts, Briefly National Endowment Honors.” The New York Times (June 2005).

Watch

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, 2005 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman explains how her family got to America. Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman explains how her mother got her started singing. Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman explains how her son become involved with Yiddish singing. Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman answers the question 'How did you get started writing children's literature?' Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman performs her poetry in Yiddish, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman explains how she writes songs, Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman's son explains how his grandmother obtained such a large repertoire. Arlington, Virginia, 2005, interview by Alan Govenar

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, 'Oy Vey, Mame, Ikh Lib a Sheyn Yingl (Oh, Mother, I love a handsome young Man),' Zumerteg, 1997, Yiddishland Records

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman singing, accompanied by Alicia Svigals (violin) and Michael Alpert (guitar), 'Zumerteg (Summer Days),' Zumerteg, 1997, Yiddishland Records