Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Miriam Shomer Zunser

Born in 1883 in Odessa, Ukraine. A daughter of the writer Nahum-Meir Shayḳeṿiṭsh (Shomer). In 1891 she arrived with her family to her father in New York, where she went through public school, then in the evening attended high school and completed the City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.)

Possessing a sense for art, Sh. joined in a class for painting in the "Educational Alliance" in New York. A short time later she received a position as a teacher of art for beginners, then she enrolled in the Cooper Union, where she settled into the study of art.

In 1902 Sh. became a librarian in the newly found "Hebrew Educational Society" in Brownsville, New York.

In 1905 she married the lawyer Charles Zunser (son of Alikum Zunser), and within the span of two years became a lecturer about the arts for the New York Board of Education.

In 1917 she was among the ten divided Jewish women in New York to the First American Yiddish Congress. In the same year she organized the Brooklyn wing of "Hadassah" in New York.

Her sister Rose recalls about Miriam's work with her while writing plays. When Rose confided in her that to write a play, Miriam requested [from me]:


"permission for me to write the play along with you. I had agreed, and when I had completed my writing, I had the play given over to Miriam. Not only had she improved it and perfected the dialogue, but also in an artistic way, portrayed the experiences and reflections of a woman and mother, who she had known and understood much more than me, her unmarried sister; and so our play was born, which we had given the name 'Eyne fun folk.'"

From there both sisters wrote together the future plays: "Di makht fun gezets (The Power of Law [?])," "Di tsirkus meydl (The Circus Girl)," "and "Der zingendiker gonev (The Singing Thief [?])," which were all staged. [For more details about this, see Rose Shomer-Bachelis' biography and bibliography.]

Sh. also wrote by herself the plays "Der epel-boym (The Apple Tree)," "Man un vayb (Man and Wife)," and together with Dr. Ida Badanes a children's play in English "Goldie Laks." The play was never staged.

In 1931 Sh. was interested, through the composer Prof. Shlomo Rozovsky, in the Yiddish of a society for the dissemination of Yiddish music in America, and in the Land of Israel, and founded that society under the name "Miliam" (Mkhun eretz israel lmdey hamusikh," Eretz Israel Institute for Musical Science). "Miliam" soon had excited a great number of musicians, among them also Mischa Ellman, Bronislov Huberman, and a section of the famous Yiddish compositors, such as Arnold Shenberg, Gurowitz, Ernst Bloch, the pianist Osip Gabrilovich et al (for details about "Miliam," see Rose Shomer's book, "Vi ikh hob zey gekent," pp. 50-53). After eleven years of existence, the organization was transformed into a "Yiddish music forum," in which Sh. also participated.

The composer A. W. Binder wrote about her:

"Miriam Shomer Zunser occupied an honorable place in the history of Yiddish music in America. Thanks to her, Yiddish music became recognized as a living, national art. Thanks to her Yiddish music began to take its place among the arts of other nations. Through Miriam Shomer Zunser, for the first time, the greatest Yiddish personalities of the music world came together, in order to help develop and promote Yiddish music. Thanks to her they were encouraged to create Yiddish music. No history of Yiddish music would be complete, would it not deliver Miriam Shomer Bachelis to her place, which she had earned."

Sh. also published a number of poems and articles in the "Tog."

In 1939 in New York's "Stackpole Sons" publishing house, there was issued her book in English, "Yesterday" ("Nechtn"), a book of memoirs in a fictional form, in which she depicts the various members of her family, her environment, and the lifestyle. The book had received a very warm reaction from the Yiddish and English critics.

In 1947 Sh. translated from her English book into Yiddish the set of her father's childhood years and youth, and it, together with the subsequent chapters of her father's life (written through her sister Rose), published in "Tog," then the work was issued in a book "Our Father Shomer" ("Ikuf" Publishers, New York, 1950), and in 1953 in the Hebrew translation of Aaron Vaysman (Jerusalem, "Akhisf").

For the last five years of her life Sh. suffered from a cancer of the breast, but she had, almost until her last days, didn't give up her social activism. On 11 October 1951 she passed away in New York.

Sh.'s brother, Abraham, and sister, Rose, were associated with Yiddish theatre, and his sister Anna Shomer-Rotenberg is an interpreter of Yiddish folk-songs.

Her sister Rose characterizes her this way:

"Miriam was an extraordinary talented and fine human being. Besides being a fine writer, lecturer, speaker and organizer, she also was a sculptor, who created a number of various figures and very fine busts of her husband and children. She knew the arts of ceramics and created various vessels for the house in various designs and colors. She was a passionate chess player. She could play the piano well, was a wonderful housewife, ... Her house always was often for members of her and her husband's families, for friends and acquaintances, for musicians, composers, actors and artists, who often used to gather there and enjoy her and her husband's warmness and hospitality."

  • Zalmen Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. IV, pp. 453-55.

  • Jacob Mestel -- "Undzer foter shm"r," "Yidishe kultur," N. Y., October, 1950.

  • Nachman Mayzel -- "Yidishe tematik, yidishe melodies bay bavuste muziker," New York, 1952, pp. 53-54.

  • Rose Shomer-Bachelis -- "Vi ikh hob zey gekent," Los Angeles, 1955.

  • Ber Green -- "A shtik kolirfule fargangeheyt fun der yidisher amerike," "Morgn frayhayt," N. Y.. June 12, 1955.

  • Jacob Mestel -- A tsushteyer tsu yidisher teater-geshikhte, "Yidishe kultur," N. Y., October 1955.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2115.

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