The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Life in America

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Schatchens, Straight and Crooked, and Their Methods Among the Young Girls,
Jew and Gentile, of the Yiddish Quarter, New York

From the Los Angeles Herald, Sunday, September 24, 1905.



Probably one of the most curious survivals of archaic Orientalism which one may find in New York is the schatchen (pronounced shot-ken), or marriage broker. He is a busy, prosperous man, with a good business and a large following of clients, and he has developed his ancient and picturesque trade along the modern lines of commercial America, but withal he remains the schatchen--the matchmaker, the trafficker in young men and maidens, the indefatigable, serene, obsequious, popular marriage broker.

In older days and older lands he wore the dull red and green and russet robes of the Orient, he jingled with chains and ornaments, or slipped on silent feet into the dwellings of the east; in New York he has a printed card: "H. L---tz, Real Estate and Business Broker," and carries on an excellent trade at the corner saloons and the homes of the clientele. "Business Broker" means but one thing in the part of the town particularly affected by the schatchen. Every one knows what his business is.

Typical Schatchens

The schatchen is almost invariably of one type. He is not very tall; he is bearded, patriarchal and intensely Yiddish. He walks silently and watches every chance passerby with eyes that are both furtive and keen. He slips in and out of places almost without making his presence felt. When he speaks it is with a marked desire to please, but with strangers he is cautious and slow of tongue.

He has no regular office as a rule, but is apt to use upon his card the address and telephone number of some influential friend--the alderman of his district, or, if all else fails, the biggest saloonkeeper of the neighborhood. He slides in and out of his adopted headquarters by day and night, insinuating himself into conversational groups or listening sharply to the talk of others about him.

His clients are practically all Yiddish. A Jewish schatchen would never trust a Gentile sufficiently to have with him or her business dealings of so delicate and intimate a nature.

The type? Come with me to Rivington Street and stand on the corner where Norfolk crosses it. Watch the girls go by. They are pretty in a gentle foreign way. They wear their hair low on their necks and very loosely arranged. One and all have white worsted shawls wrapped about their slightly bent shoulders. Their figures are full, their steps heavy. They have the hallmarks of the working woman, the beast of burden, writ large upon their patient faces and stooping backs.

One in seven has a bright ribbon in her hair or a string of colored beads about her throat. Only one in thirty wears a hat. They moved quickly, casting swift glances, half shy, half bold, at the men they pass. Their lives are spent in shops and factories, gaining a meager living. They never come in contact with men; they have no time. Romance has no place in their ramped, crushed destinies. Love is not known to their hears any more than joy is known to their lives. They are the plodders, the workers, the women whom the gods have forgotten. And these are the natural prey of the schatchen.


Advantages of the System

Perhaps prey is the wrong word, after all, for, when the schatchen is "on the level" and "plays a straight game," his office may be a most useful, valuable and beneficial one, and often he carries away from a Yiddish wedding the good wishes of the two contented young persons whom he as united. The legitimate schatchen is a necessary factor in Yiddish life of the lower strata. Without him these girls would find no husband and the men of the vicinity would go to other districts for their wives. Also, there would be much more immorality. The schatchen forestalls the natural mating proclivities of young people and ties up his clients in pairs, firm and fast, with knots that hold the couples in comfortable bondage for good and all.

One and all these girls, whom we see passing and repassing on all sides, wish husbands. They save their earnings for the purpose of amassing a dot adequate to make a good showing with the schatchen and win a satisfactory mate. There is not a girl among them who will not go to the schatchen in time, if she has not already been there.

There is a young couple. She is dressed in her best and he looks intensely sheepish. They have just met each other through the schatchen. In a week they will be man and wife. It sounds risky, does it not? Yet they will tell you down here that there is about the same percentage of happiness in these queer broker manufactured marriages as in unions where choice, romance and other considerations have a part. That man over there carrying a baby and looking rather proud of it at that was married through a schatchen. So, also, was that pathetic looking woman over there, who was recently deserted by her husband and is now begging pennies on the sidewalk.

Her case brings to us the other class of schatchens--the men whose practice of their trade makes them a menace to the community, and whose ill-gotten gains come to about quadruple what the honest schatchen makes by his legitimate business.

Swindling Schatchens

These crooked schatchens have been little talked about until lately. Their trade has been so secret, their precautions so complete and their "team work" so remarkable that they have operated almost entirely unobserved. Now and then the complaint of some deserted wife has started the police upon a scent which seemed bound to lead to new and important discoveries, but it was usually found to "end in squirrel tracks or run up a tree."

Even now it is next to impossible to arrest or convict a "swindling schatchen," as the police call them. The Twelfth precinct police force has been at work on the overthrow of several for years, but the game is a long and arduous one, and, as one of the young detectives downtown declares, "would take the entire time of the force to the exclusion of every other case if you wanted to put the thing through quickly."

The swindling schatchen has two possible methods of procedure. It depends upon his nerve as to which he adopts. If he be a brazen specimen he will advertise himself frankly as a schatchen and bring as many men and girls together as possible, asking a commission for his services. The men are always picked from his own band, the swindling broker, the trusting girl and the blackleg prepared to marry as many women as he can conveniently pauperize in a limited space of time. But in this case the marriage broker is less courageous and hides his nefarious trade behind the screen of some legitimate and blatantly advertised business.

Employment Agencies

The favorite cloak of these schatchens is an "employment agency." They have large signs, front offices, desks, ledgers and all the costliest paraphernalia. To them come girls in search of work--most of them foreigners just from the other side. The girls' names are entered, their looks and savings are estimated, and the wily employment agent talks matrimony, the comforts of home and being settled for life into the girls' ears.

A Persuasive Marriage Broker in a Yiddish Employment Bureau.

The girls who are amenable to the agent's reasoning find husbands speedily for the coming, their small earnings are taken away and immediately afterwards they are deserted and entirely without funds. They may appeal to the police, but he husbands have gone, and who can touch the agent? He knew nothing about the man's disreputable character, of course, and had nothing to do with the matter beyond introducing one young person to another. Schatchen? Nonsense! He is no marriage broker. And he pats his inside pocket where lies his share of the last matrimonial haul.

Some one living down in that neighborhood once went to a genuine employment bureau to engage a servant for his wife. The girl to whom he spoke looked at him with obvious distrust. "I want a straight job," she said. "None of the sort of trying to get you over to Mr. S----'s office. I don't want to get married."

"Team Work"

As has been said before, the "team work," or concerted action, of these matrimonial bands is rather extraordinary. The interdependence of the members is of necessity tremendous, and the men all stand in with one another so successfully as to drive the police and the plain-clothes men frantic. The best chance for the force comes when some one man, to save and square himself, "peaches" on another, and so destroys a little of that perfect harmony in the organization of crooks.

Sometimes of course, a broker cheats one of his men, or a man goes back on he broker and fails to give up the promised share of the plunder obtained from the newest wife, but this does not help the police. No complaint will be made, of course, for, as may readily be imagined, in no walk of life is the glass house lesson more forcibly illustrated.

The men who belong to the bands and lend themselves to the vile schemes for betraying and robbing young girls are all of a peculiar type. Shifty eyes, weak chins, evil mouths--they look and are ready for any job that may offer itself--the lower the better.

"And just consider," said a detective, who stood watching a group of them the other night. "Just consider how easy it is for them to get away when they have succeeded in pulling a job off. They have only to move to another part of the town first, then another, and even a fourth perhaps; the city is so enormous, and the districts are so distinct and separated, and when he fancies that he may be getting rather close to warm weather there is always a 'get away' handy. There never was a place with so many get aways as New York, and these crooks are wise to them all, too!"

You must appreciate the truth of this last statement if you could have seen, as did the writer, a map of Manhattan in an "employment agent's" office, with the "get aways" all duly marked. Get aways? Well, the Grand Central, with its various railroads, is one; the ferries and the bridge lines constitute the rest; the local get aways are subway and "L" stations, car line junctions, etc. No crook ever planned a job of any sort, big or little, without mapping out his get aways first. He tries to work things so that he has a choice of two or three. The beforementioned map has estimates of population in various districts and al sorts of valuable information. Its usefulness in an employment agency seemed rather obscure, but perhaps the agent was a person who liked to be well informed on all subjects!

"The oldest sort of team work I ever saw," said Alderman T--- of the rogues' district, "was that of a man and his wife who carried on a sort of matrimonial business of their own. They would separate by mutual agreement, go and marry again, he a new wife and she a new husband, and finally reunite to divide the winnings. That beats the schatchen business hollow.

"Schatchens? Oh, they are so thick as--well, perhaps not as thick as thieves in these parts, for thieves happen to be particularly plenty; but there is no lack of schatchens. Most of them are quiet, decent old fellows enough. There is one now. He does a thriving business. Respectable looking? Well, rather. He's 'the legitimate,' you know. But the others--oh, they are common swindlers! I have come in contact with plenty of them, and they are a degree or two lower than the lowest. In the old days, before I became alderman, I could have told you some stories."







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