Family Ties — To The Mamaloshen

Family Ties — To The Mamaloshen

George Robinson covers film and music for The Jewish Week.

They are, quite simply, the daughters of royalty. Yiddish royalty, several generations of important Yiddish scholars, poets, singers and musicians.

So it’s no great surprise that Reyna and Temma Schaechter, known collectively as “Di Schaechter Tekhter” (the Schaechter Daughters), have ended up performing in Yiddish as well. The duo will be part of the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus concert at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway) on Sunday, June 1 at 4:30 p.m.

OK, maybe it was a surprise to Reyna.

In an e-mail this week from Berlin where the 19-year-old Yale undergraduate was traveling, she recalled, “As … a child, I performed in amateur settings, but I could not have imagined that my sister and I would traveling to Paris or Melbourne only a few years later to perform in Yiddish.”

By contrast, her younger sister seems downright blasé discussing their shared experience.

“Ever since I could talk, I’ve been singing,” Temma, 14, e-mailed after a school day at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art. “I grew up hearing my father sing Yiddish music for me. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me that that was the language in which we would perform.”

When your father is Binyumin Schaechter, conductor of the JPPC and composer of countless Yiddish songs, your grandfather is the linguist and Yiddishist Mordkhe Schaechter, your grand-aunt is the poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, your cousin is the former editor of the Forverts Itzik Gottesman and your aunts are distinguished Yiddish poets and journalists, what other language would you perform in?

“I grew up speaking only Yiddish at home,” their father wrote in an e-mail last week. “My parents … made a conscious decision that they wanted their children to be fluent in Yiddish. … When I was 4 or 5, my dad even made me and my sisters put a penny in the pot every time we said a word in English. And so we all not only learned Yiddish well, but also came to understand how important Yiddish was to our parents, to our family, to our ancestors, for our heritage.”

Inevitably, Binyumen and his wife Carol (Khayele in Yiddish) ended up raising the girls and their older brother Daneel in a bilingual household in which Yiddish was spoken as much if not more than English.

Performing came easily, as Reyna explained.

“We started performing together in the amateur Yiddish singing ensemble, Pripetchik [which was directed by their father],” she wrote. “Temma and I, the two youngest members of the troupe were still up to performing when other members were moving on to college. Our prime ages coupled with our aptitude for performance made Di Shekhter Tekhter an inevitability, though none of it would have been possible without our musical director and father Binyumen. We gave our first performance as Di Shekhter Tekhter in February 2008.”

Whether the sisters will continue to perform regularly together is hard to predict. As they grow and their interests — and schedules — diverge, it may be harder for them to work out the logistics of a double-act.

One thing is certain. They’ll continue to uphold the family traditions.

As Temma put it, “I love singing in both English and Yiddish. … But when I sing and perform in Yiddish, I know that I’m doing something very important by sharing Yiddish with the world.”

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