Leading Yiddish linguist Mordkhe Schaechter dies at 79

new york (ap) | Mordkhe Schaechter, who turned a boyhood fascination with Yiddish into a lifetime of promoting the language, eventually earning a top prize in the field, died recently at the age of 79.

Schaechter died at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx after a long illness, according to his daughter Rukhl Schaechter.

Throughout his life, Schaechter not only studied Yiddish, he also founded organizations devoted to the language and wrote dictionaries designed to standardize it. Yiddish, along with Hebrew and Aramaic, is one of the three main literary languages in Jewish history. Its first speakers were the Ashkenazic Jewry of Central and Eastern Europe.

Schaechter taught Yiddish studies at Columbia University from 1981 to 1993 and in the Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture from its start in 1968 until 2004. He also taught at various Jewish seminaries and other institutions.

He had a lengthy association with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, a leading organization devoted to the study of Ashkenazic Jewry.

In 1994, Schaechter received the most distinguished Yiddish literary award, the Itzik Manger Prize.

He was born Itsye Mordkhe Schaechter on Dec. 1, 1927, in what was then Cernauti, Romania, and is now Chernivtsi, Ukraine. As a young student, he grew fascinated with Yiddish. He went on to study linguistics at the University of Bucharest and earned a doctorate from the University of Vienna, where he wrote a dissertation about Yiddish.

Schaechter came to New York in 1951 and served during the Korean War in U.S. Army military intelligence.

He helped edit “The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language” and “The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry.” He also served for years in various positions, including editor, at YIVO’s Yiddishe Shprakh, a journal about the language.

Organizations he founded or helped found include the Committee for the Implementation of the Standardized Yiddish Orthography; Yugntruf, which means “Call to Youth,” a worldwide group for teaching Yiddish to younger generations; and the New York-based League for Yiddish.

He authored several books, including “Authentic Yiddish,” “Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Childhood: An English-Yiddish Dictionary” and “Plant Names in Yiddish: A Handbook of Botanical Terminology.”

Survivors include his wife of five decades, Charne Schaechter; three daughters, Rukhl Schaechter of Yonkers, N.Y., Gitl Viswanath of Teaneck, N.J., and Eydl Reznik of Israel; a son, Binyumen of Manhattan; a sister, Bella Schaechter-Gottesman of the Bronx; and 16 grandchildren.