Lives in the Yiddish Theatre
SHORT BIOGRAPHIES OF THOSE INVOLVED IN THE Yiddish THEATRE
aS DESCRIBED IN zALMEN zYLBERCWEIG'S "lEKSIKON FUN YIDISHN TEATER"

1931-1969
 

A. Waiter
(Isaac Meir Devenishski)
 

Born in June [July?] 1878 [1879?, according to Z. Reyzen on his passport from six years of age [according to E. J. Goldschmidt -- at four years of age] in Byenyakoni, Vilna region, Polish Lithuania. His father was an innkeeper, who was descended from a myu-Chasidic family of rabbis, dayanim and scholars, who gave up his son to his grandfather to be raised and educated, in order to "expand him" from the environment of the inn. From age five he learned with a melamed and manifested great abilities. In his thirteenth year, he went away to Soletshnik and learned in a Beit HaMedrash with the local rabbi, then in Kolelishok, where he also learned other subjects read much Hebrew-Yiddish literature. At that time he made his first literary attempt: songs and scenic images in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. Together with Israel Rabinowitz, and also produced Mendele's "Fishke der kruter" and led on Purim Trn"u (1896), which made an extraordinary impression.

After spending a year in Smargon, where he became familiar with the young Jewish Workers' Movement, he went to learn in a kibbutz of Eishishok, attending the yeshiva of Khafetz Chaim in Radin, and arrived in Kovno (1897), where he for a short time learned in a "new Beit HaMedrash", and secretly from the elders attended a graduation examination, which he however did not endure. He was pulled into the revolutionary-socialistic circle, and he directed, under the pseudonym "Khaver aron", an energetic propagandized an organizational work in the "Bund" and edited a Bundist organ.

 


At the end of 1899 W. was arrested at Vilna's terminal with a transport of illegal literature. IN the beginning of the summer of 1900 he was freed under police supervision. He began to take (under a foreign name "Waiter") an intense participation in Workers' Movement, became a member in Vilna's "Bund" committee, participated in illegal organs, arranged Yiddish productions for others (such as An-ski's "Di malkhome farn lebn", Hauptmann's "Di veber (The Weaver)", and attempted by himself to translate from European repertoire.

At the end of January 1901 he was arrested again, W. sat for a year in Moscow's Butyrka prison, and in 19012 was sent administratively for two years to Siberia, where he for a certain time was employed by the railroad in Tomsk and wrote in the Siberian Russian press, later  spending time in Zakopane, Berlin and Switzerland, and after the events of 9 January 1905 he came to Vilna, where he once again threw himself into revolutionary work. Under the pseudonym N. Anin then he became a constant contributor to the Russian newspaper "Severo-zapadnoye slovo". After the failure of the revolution, W. gradually withdrew from organizational work and began to take up literature, performing for the first time under the pseudonym A. Waiter with a novella "In veg" ("Folks-tsaytung", 10/23 November 1906). In Minsk, where he lived, (illegally under the name "Rubeen Gurevich"), W. contributed to the local Russian press, and in 1907, together with Sarah Reyzen and Mendel Elkin he translated Max Halbe's drama "Der shtrom", and by himself performed in the role of "Herman".

Returning to Vilna, W. published his first play "Fartog, a dramatic poem in four acts, in vayzn ferz" (publishing house "Di velt", 1907, 68 pp., 2nd improved edition [improved a series of directions from Sh. Niger] -- 1911; 3rd edition -- publisher B. Kletzkin, 1922).

The drama (under the supervision of Polish poet Wispianski) expressed in a symbolic form the moods of the Jewish intelligentsia on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

The drama was never performed.

W. also was a co-founder of the "Yiddish Musical Vocal-Dramatic Society" in Vilna, which performed a significant cultural role in Vilna until the World War. From this "FADA" was descended [the "Vilna Troupe"].

At the beginning of 1908 W., together with Sh. Niger and Sh. Gorelik, founded the journal "LIterarishe monatshriften" (four volumes), where he also published an article about Yiddish theatre (reprinted in his handwriting, pp. 120-8).

After the downfall of the "Literarishe monatshriften", W. began took to the theatre: to create a Yiddish artistic theatre, which would become his life's work. In the field work, he, together with M. Elkin and came even in Bobruisk, where he continued with his presentation.

Later W. traveled to Peterburg, where he worked at "Der fraynd" and wrote at that time "In feyer, a drama in three acts" (publisher "Di velt", 1910, 80 pp., 2nd edition -- publisher B. A. Kletzkin, 1920). The drama in March 1920 was staged in Vilna by the studio with the Theatre Society, and it portrayed the destruction of the Jewish family, the loss and loneliness of the new generation, which missed entirely the constructive Yiddishkeyt.

In 1919 the play was published in Munich in the German translation of Alexander Eliasberg in his collection "Yidishes teater". (Second volume, pp. 247-315).

In 1910 W. became a member of the editorial board of "Der fraynd" in Warsaw.

Dr. Mukdoni wrote about it in his "memoirs" ("Archive", 1930): "In the editorial board there was a deep interest in the theatre question and to him had a firm and clear attitude -- A. Waiter".

On 22 January 1910 W. participated in Warsaw's "Filharmonia" and sympathized (Dr. Mukdoni, Nomberg, Peretz) about Yiddish theatre.

In the mission of the society for a serous artistic Yiddish theatre, which was founded in Warsaw (1911) with I. L. Peretz at its head, W. visited a series of cities of West-Central and South Russia, propagandized the idea of the theatre and sold stock for the society. The idea however was not realized. W. tried after to organize a serious Yiddish troupe with Elkin, Ben-Ami and Neomi at the head, associating with Belyaev, also with the Jewish-Russian actor Dalmatov, but not one of the plans was successful.

In 1912 B. published in Kletzkin's publishing house W.'s play "Der shtumer" in four acts (84 pp., 16), second edition -- 1920).

In the play, which very often was performed on the Yiddish stage, W. pressed out the mood answers (?) of the Jewish intelligentsia, which were alienated from Yiddishkeyt.

No longer being able to transfer the illegal und-life, W. went over voluntarily into the hands of the gendarmerie, and in the summer of 1912 he was sent for three years to the Turukhansk region of White Siberia. Later he received a license to remain in Krasnoyarsk, where -- due to material need -- he worked with "Sibeirskaya zhizn".

At the end of March 1917 he returned to Peterburg, wherein he, after the October Revolution in Nizhny Novgorod, Minsk, Bobruisk, and at the end of 1918 in Vilna, where he founded together with Sh. Niger the weekly "Di vokh" (published four volumes). Here he published his one-acter "An umglik" (reprinted in his own handwriting). In the subsequent monthly journal "Di naye velt", W. published a theatre article [reprinted in his handwriting].

When the Polish army took Vilna, several legionnaires broke into  the house where W. was living, took him into the street and shot him on 21 April 1919. His naked body hot zikh gevalgert two days in the street gutter.

The tragic death of W. evoked sorrow in the entire Yiddish world. In all the great Jewish centers there was arranged evenings of mourning.

On W.'s tomb in Vilna's cemetery there stands a memorial, and in memoriam there is the "Waiter Fund for the Union of Yiddish Literature and Journalism in Vilna". , issued under the direction of Sh. Niger and Z. Reyzen a collection under the title "Waiter's Book" (1920, 320 pp., 16), where there is almost a series of articles about W.'s life and creations, and a large work of Dr. Michael Weichert "Waiter der dramatiker", and there was also published a series of letters from W. to his friend M. Elkin.

In 1923 in Kletzkin's publishing house, there was published W.'s "Khkhbim" (CLXV + 160, 16), in which there was included Noshmidt's a detailed biography of W., the one-acter "An umglik", and a short list of W.'s works.

Nachman Mayzel in "Di yidishe velt" (Warsaw, 8, 1927) published four letters of W.

  • Z. Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature", Vol. I, pp. 929-38.

  • A. Waiter -- "khkhbim", Vilna, 1923.

  • Michael Weichert -- "Teater un drame", Vol. I, pp. 101-6.

  • Nachman Maysel -- Briv fun a. vayter, "Di yidishe velt", Warsaw, VIII, 1928.

  • Sh. Niger -- A. vayter, "Tog", N. Y., 1 May 1929.

  • Avraham Reyzen -- "Epizodn fun mayn lebn", Vilna, 1929, Vol. I, pp. 146-156, 173-175, 300-303.

  • Dr. A. Mukdoni -- Zikhrunus un a yidishn teater-kritiker, "Archive", Vilna, 1930, pp. 372-86, 397-410.


 

 

 

 


 

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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 673.
 

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