Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Avraham Gakhanski

Born in Kishinev, Bessarabia.

His father was a furniture-maker.

G. studied in Odessa in a Russian theatre school and then acted in a Russian provincial troupe. Later he switched to acting in the Yiddish theatre, and in about 1918, he came to act in Tultshin where he met Mintze, the daughter of a klezmer. They married and formed a small traveling troupe, at first with his brother Zakharia Zakharov with their families, and later, separately.

Motl Sotskier relates that he [Gakhanski] had a pleasant, extraordinary baritone [voice].

Gakhanski’s daughter Nadia married the singer Zigi Shternhel, and his daughter Soyke was the wife of the Soviet-Yiddish author Motl Sotskier. His son-in-law Motl Sotskier describes him and his difficult theatre experience, which casts a light on the former Yiddish theatre life as follows:

"The First World War hadn’t yet ended when a thin, short, young man appeared in Kishinev who attracted everyone’s attention with his unusual, extravagant appearance. He appeared as if he had stepped down from a stage on which an old Russian play was performed, and he had absentmindedly forgotten to remove his makeup and change his clothes. He wore shoes with high heels (to appear taller), a hat with a broad brim from under which peeked out a shock of hair. On his chest, a abroad tied [?] [oysgebundete] __?___[lavelienrn]____ and even a pelerine [a short cape]. On the little streets of Kishinev on which poor and hard-working people lived, he cut an amazing figure. People looked at him in wonder – 'Who is this type? From where did he appear? What do you mean, who? You don’t recognize him? Of course, it’s Avreml, Dovid-Ber the carpenter’s son, Gakhanski’s son.' By then he had returned from Odessa, where he had studied in a theatre school. He even had a bit of experience in a Russian provincial troupe."

There he fell in love with Mintze, the daughter of a klezmer. They married. She became an actress in the troupe, too, in which he…Gakhanski…who once was a dreamer, became old before his time from worry over the daily need to eke out a living.

By the way, this worry weighed more on the shoulders of Mintze. Gakhanski was absorbed in the heavens and he really looked like an ascetic – emaciated and dried-out. His mother, Khaye Dobe, who used to have a fish shop in the large Kishinev market, likened him to “a dried-out ‘tarnanke’ [type of fish].” He was as impractical as a child, and like a child, helpless. He couldn't navigate the various difficult circumstances that often occurred in their life. He also never knew how the business side of his theatre ran. Mintze concerned herself with that. She and not he was the heart and the head of the family.

Abraham thought he was above everyday, prosaic things. His concern was art. He sought out music (thank God there was a lot to choose from) and foremost-- repertoire. He carried a full box of notebooks and books, yellowed with age, with him. It didn’t make any difference to him if the piece was too old. He quickly made the needed edits and fit it to his understanding.

A woman’s role became a man’s – or vice versa.

And besides that, he himself also played around with writing.

It wasn’t hard for him to put together a theatre piece about something that really happened.

Mrs. Rosa Heller relates that Gakhanski used to act his own plays. One of them, written as a poem, “The Rabbi – a Shoemaker” (not Goldfaden's “A No One”) that portrayed how a poor shoemaker pretended to be a rabbi. He has a beautiful voice, travels to a small town with his wife and daughter where there was a rabbi, but not a cantor. He is invited to shul, he prays, finds favor with the town leaders who collect a little money for him. A little later, however, he is discovered to be a shoemaker – so he is removed from his position.

As Julian Schwartz relates, the Russian theatre troupes in which Gakhanski acted used good actors, both Jews and non-Jews, some even well-known. According to the recollection of the older Yiddish actress Sarah Ettinger, who, during the Second World War acted in Odessa, Gakhanski came to them there in the Yiddish theatre and was accepted into the troupe. A part of the troupe later went to Paris, others to South America, and a few to Kishinev. Gakhanski then played Yiddish variety shows in Kishinev and all over the Bessarabian province.

In 1941 G. and his wife were killed by fascist bands – where and how is unknown.

Gakhanski had six daughters: Esther, Soyke, Nadia, Tayvl, Beyle, and Khane. All of them acted in the Yiddish theatre and according to their birth records, one can determine the route of Gakhanski’s troupe over Moldavia and Bessarabia.

Sh. E. from Julian Schwartz and M.E. from Sarah Ettinger and Rosa Heller.

  • Motl Soktzier – The Yikhes Boym (pedigree tree) – “This is how we live.”

  • Moscow, 1962, pages 215-235.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4336.

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