Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Menachem-Mendl Rabin


Born on 8 July 1896 in Grodno, Polish-Lita. His father was a merchant. He learned in a cheder, then in a yeshiva. Until the age of seventeen he learned in a middle school. With the outbreak of the First World War he went over to Vilna with his parents.

Jonas Turkow in his book "Extinguished Stars," writes that his grandfather, R' Mendele, is who he got his name from, was a rabbi. R.'s older brother was a well-known Yiddish writer in Russia. His younger brother, Barukh, was also an actor, had acted with Lipovski in Vilmna, and then went away from the theatre. he was killed in the Grodno Ghetto.

In Vilna R. came to play several years in a worker dramatic circle, "Kunst-fareyn (Art Union)" with the "Bund," under the direction of L. Kadison. In 1918 he was engaged to Lipovski in the "Folks" Theatre. In 1920 he toured with Azro-Alomis to other countries. According to Jonas Turkow, R. played for a long time in Ester Rokhl Kaminska's troupe. In 1924 he returned back to Vilna, and since then played in various dramatic and operetta troupes. From 1932 until the outbreak of the Second World War, he played with Kadish-Khashs. R. was a good character actor, and also a stage manager.

Jonas Turkow states this about R.'s last stage period and his tragic end:

"During the (Second World) War, he, under the Soviet Occupation,played in Bialystok's Yiddish State Theatre, and when the German-Russian war broke out, he was found, together

with an ensemble from Bialystok's State Theatre, in Mohilev, where the troupe fell apart. Mendel Rabin had a wife and daughter. The wife was the daughter of the well-known Yiddish-Hebrew teacher in Grodno named Gutman. Mendel' wife, Berta Gutman, who for a long time acted with him, together, in various troupes. Their lives were not harmonious . They had divorced. The wife and daughter left for Israel before the last war.

Mendl Rabin loved the bitter drops. This passion disturbed him in his artistic career, and people were not happy to engage him in troupes. He became bitter, had few friends and lived entirely isolated from people. He came to Frunze; the situation there was very difficult. Due to the war there, there simply was nothing to eat. The worst were the Jewish actors who simply did not know what to take.

... It was in the time when the German army stood behind Moscow. Bread was rationed then. To receive a bread card, one had to be employed. And when Yiddish actors knew where to find employment, at that time, wasn't there anybody playing the Yiddish theatre? Only then did the homeless Jews begin to stream toward Frunze, and they began to play Yiddish theatre.

Mendl Rabin was one of the 'lucky ones,' who had received work. He became a guard in a garden. His rent was one hundred and twenty rubles a month. A pound of bread in that time costs in Frunze one hundred rubles in the black market. ... Mendl Rubin made a living from what he used to gather from the fallen branches of the trees; he sold them for heating. So he became even more distraught by the brilliant actors who had been together all the time.

On a certain day the actor Sheftl Zak came to Rabin for a few branches. And he became aware of the guard, that Rabin found himself in the hospital. He became sick from the harsh living conditions, and from exhaustion. (And when Zak had visited him, he had) in a brief period around a person's shadow there appeared: It was Mendel Rabin. He barely held on to his feet, and he could not spit out more than the word 'eat'. (It turns out that Zak sold his portion of bread to R., which he received, in order to get underwear. The actress Esther Perlman appeared to snuggle up [?] with neighbors a little green tea and buy a cup of soup, and she and Zak went to the hospital to him). ... In Frunze then was found a young man, Berl Itskovitsh, from Bialystok. He was in Frunze as a driver, and not once helped the Yiddish actors. When he became aware of the grief-stricken case of Rabin, he provided his truck and fellow actors brought out the dead man from the hospital and drove him to the Frunze Cemetery. At Frunze there was no Jewish cemetery yet. All the Yiddish actors collected for the grave, which they had with their own hands excavated, and the chairman of the collection of actors, Yitskhok Grudberg-Turkow, said the eulogy. Rabin's landsman Sheftl Zak said Kaddish for him, and on the found stone, which he had erected on the grave, there were engraved the following words:

Here Lies Mendl Rabin
Yiddish Artist of Grodno
May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

So ends the harsh life of a Yiddish actor in faraway Kyrgyzstan."


  • Jonas Turkow -- "Extinguished Stars," Buenos Aires, 1953, Vol. 2, pp. 132-136.





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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4632.

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