Macher (pronounced almost like “mocker,” replacing the “ck” with the guttural “ch” sound) is Yiddish for “doer.” It can refer to a bigshot (“They honor another macher every year at the benefit gala”) or busybody (“That kid is such a macher. He manages to get his nose into everyone’s business”).

The Askan

A similar term is askan. A loan word from Aramaic, the askan is a communal activist who makes it his or her business to work for the betterment of the community. Contemporary askanim may specialize in helping people through medical crises, representing the Jewish community’s needs to government officials, or endeavoring to ensure the availability of Jewish education. There is no official application to become an askan, nor is a membership database kept. But if you have a yen to be a macher, askanus may be your calling. Help a person, fix a problem, reach out to someone in need, and you’ve become an askan.

The Macher in Modern Hebrew

In contemporary Israeli Hebrew, a macher is a fixer of a sorts who can help people cut through bureaucratic red tape, arrange meetings with government officials, or arrange permits and other concessions, sometimes in exchange for a well-placed gift. Unlike his Yiddish antecedent, the Hebrew macher is a decidedly shadowy character, someone you wish to stay away from (unless, of course, you need him).

The Sheitel Macher

In Yiddish, the word mach means both “do” and “make.” Hence a woman who makes wigs (“sheitelach”) is a sheitel macher (here’s why Jewish women cover their hair). The modern sheitel macher may not actually make wigs, but she does cut, wash and style them. And like the stereotypical hairdresser, it is not uncommon for a sheitel macher to be a proverbial macher, up on the latest news, dispensing advice and providing a listening ear to her clients.

The Kishuf Macher

On a more sinister note, a magician is a kishuf macher in Yiddish (kishuf is Hebrew for “sorcery”). Of course, kishuf is strictly forbidden by the Torah. In fact, even practicing sleight of hand for entertainment can be questionable (do Jews believe in magic?).

The Batim Macher

Tefillin—the prayer boxes worn by Jewish men during prayer—are essentially parchment scrolls housed in leather boxes. The scrolls are written by a sofer, a specially trained scribe. The black boxes are traditionally made by a craftsman known as a batim macher (batim is Hebrew for “houses”). Transforming a rough piece of cowhide into a perfectly smooth cube of leather is no mean feat, and batim machers are highly-skilled practitioners of an ancient craft almost completely unknown to most people.

A craftsman known as a batim macher works on the protruding Shin on a head tefillin (Photo: Flash90/Nati Shohat)
A craftsman known as a batim macher works on the protruding Shin on a head tefillin (Photo: Flash90/Nati Shohat)