Schachter, Herschel

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SCHACHTER, HERSCHEL (1917– ), U.S. Orthodox. rabbi. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Schachter was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1941. He served as rabbi of Agudath Shalom, Stamford, Conn., in 1940. During World War ii, Schachter was a U.S. army chaplain and was the first Jewish chaplain to aid the survivors of Buchenwald. He arrived there on April 12, 1945, with General George Patton's Third Army.

Going from one barracks to the next, he declared in Yiddish, "Sholom Alecheim Yidden, ihr zint frei" (Hello Jews, you are free). He officiated at the first Friday night service after liberation and conducted a seder for the survivors. He established a ḥevra kadisha (burial society), and acquired a plot of land for a Jewish cemetery, organized a list of Jews in the camp and others who came through, set up a mail service and a package program.

After much discussion, he convinced the military to allow young people in Buchenwald to establish a kibbutz to prepare for life in Palestine. In this he worked with Chaplain Robert Marcus, another Orthodox rabbi. Marcus and Schachter each accompanied transports of Jewish children from Buchenwald to France.

He was appointed rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center, New York, in 1946. The neighborhood was amid a large and thriving Jewish community of the Bronx. At its peak more than 1,000 people crowded into the synagogue on the high holidays. His sermons were the topic of discussion. In 1956–57 Schachter was religious adviser to Jews fleeing from Hungary. He served as president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, the first Orthodox rabbi to hold that position. He was able to maintain unity despite vast differences of ideology and politics. One person who worked closely with him, Jerry Goodman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said "he was aware of the power that he had but it never changed him. He never forgot his roots were in the Bronx. And despite his national leadership he stayed in the Bronx and served the Jewish people from that perch." As the neighborhood changed and Jews moved out, Rabbi Schachter stayed. By the mid 1990s the synagogue was almost empty even on the High Holidays. The synagogue closed in 2000, not because it lacked for funds – they could have easily be raised – but because there were no Jews. They had left for Riverdale, for Westchester, they were elsewhere.

Rabbi Schachter's son, Jacob J. *Schachter is a prominent Orthodox rabbi who for many years was the rabbi of the Jewish Center in Manhattan's West Side, a thriving Jewish community.


A. Grobman, Battling for Souls (2004).

[Jeanette Friedman (2nd ed.)]