Schaechter-Gottesman, Bella

Née Beyle Schaechter. Poet, artist and songwriter. Born 7 August 1920 in Vienna. Her mother, Lifshe Gottesman, and father, Benjamin Schaechter, moved to Cernauti, Romania (also called Czernowitz, now part of the Ukraine) when Beyle was eighteen months old. Beyle attended general school in Romanian, also learning French and Latin, spoke Yiddish at home, and German or Ukrainian around town. She studied violin briefly, but her fascination lay in art, singing and Yiddish poetry. Home was full of song as her mother knew a large folk song repertoire and had a wonderful voice. Years later, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman recorded songs in the United States, and wrote a memoir,Durkhgelebt a Velt: Zikhroynes (1973).

In 1938, Beyle’s two-year study at the Vienna art school was cut short when Hitler invaded Austria. Using her Romanian passport, she returned to her family in Cernauti, only to spend the war years in her hometown under dire circumstances. In February 1941, she married Jonas Gottesman, a physician. They wound up in Cernauti ghetto with the other Jews by October that year, but her husband arranged authorization for them to remain in the area, and thus they survived the war.

Between 1945-1946 around 22,000 Jews left Cernauti. Beyle’s family went to Bucharest. Beyle however, was able to secure a passport to live in Vienna, being a native of that city. A few years later, in 1951, she left to settle in New York with her husband and daughter.

Schaechter-Gottesman started her theatrical literary work as an involved parent of her children Taube, Hyam and Itzik, writing for the Scholem Aleichem Yiddish School in New York. She wrote several musical plays and puppet shows for children, including Alts Tsulib a Latke,“Everything for a Latke” and Dreidl Kop She edited a children s magazine Kinder Zhurnal from 1972-1982, and founded and edited the magazine by children, Enge Benge.

Her first book of poetry was Mir Forn in 1963, followed by Stezhkes Tsvishn Moyern: Lider Footpaths Amidst Stonewalls: Poems (1972) and Sharey Lider Sunrise Poetry (1980). Another book of poetry,Lider(1995) was published in both English and Yiddish. Perpl Shlengt zikh der veg: Lider Winding Purple Road (2002) also featured her drawings.

Her outpouring of musical song started to see publication in the 1990s, with Zumerteg: Tsvantsik Zinglider  Summer Days: Twenty Songs (1990) and Fli mayn flishlang! Kinderlider mit Musik  Fly My Kite! (1999); CDs of her songs also appeared: Zumerteg New Yiddish Songs (1991) and Af di Gasn Fun Shtot  On the Streets of the City (2003). Her bilingual children’s book Mume blume di Makhsheyfe  Aunt Bluma, the Witch (2000) has been translated into multiple languages. She performed her Yiddish folk songs onBay Mayn Mames Shtible  At My Mother’s House (2004).

Schaechter-Gottesman was awarded the People s Hall of Fame Award from the Museum of the City of New York (1998) and the Osher Tshushinsky Award from the Congress for Jewish Culture (1994). She received a National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 2005.

With the rekindled interest in Yiddish culture and klezmer music during the 1970s and 1980s, Gottesman s large repertory and accessibility led many leading practitioners of Yiddish song to her door. She also participated in popular cultural festivals and workshops such as the Yiddish Folk Arts Workshop (“Klezkamp”), Buffalo on the Roof, Klezkanada, Ashkenaz Festival, and Weimar Klezmerwochen, spreading the knowledge of her music. Her original songs inspired such prominent Yiddish singers as Theodore Bikel, Adrienne Cooper, Michael Alpert, Lorin Sklamberg, Sharon Bernstein and Theresa Tova, who were eager to find new material that reflected post-war Jewish life in America.
A version of this article will appear in Encyclopedia Judaica in 2006.