Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Israel Zubak


Born in Vilna, Polish-Lithuania. He started his career as a member of the choir in Lipinski's theatre.

For many years he sang for various cantors. By 1916 he had already acted in Vilnaís Yiddish theatre.

Sh. Bliacher wrote:

"I was still a small brat when the theatre began to draw me to it. Without the possibility to even purchase a ticket, I donned my high school hat that I shoved under my shirt and climbed over the fence in order to steal myself into the circus, which at that time was located on Lukishker Place. The Yiddish theatre was performing there at that time. I think that it was 1916 when I saw "The Pintele Yid." An officer went on the stage in the costume of a soldier wearing shiny patent leather boots and sang. The officer was Israel Zubak. And even though he didnít play a Jewish role, a Jew seemed to emerge from every single limb in his  body. With his long Jewish shofar-shaped nose, the officer looked more like a Jewish recruit. In 1928, when I too was acting in the Yiddish theatre I became his friend.

He was a highly intelligent young man. He was full of Yiddishkayt and also full of life. Perhaps this was due to the influence of all those years when he was involved with the kloyz in which he sang for many years in the choir of the Vilna Cantor. However he didnít occupy any special position in the theatre. He suffered from a stuffed nose, and his vocalization was weak. His head somehow, seemed to be a bit too heavy. When Avraham Morevski

appeared on the stage in Vilna in "The Dybbuk," Zubak was also on that stage in the role of the Gabbai Michael. Iím reminded of something that took place at that time. In the third act when Sender Brintzer comes to the Rabbi for a hearing, Michael says to him that Sender Brintzer is waiting for the inquiry. Zubak appears on the stage and says: "Rabbi, Alexander Brintzer has arrived." Morevski wanting to impart that he hadnít heard, asks him once more "Who?" "Iím telling you Rabbi, Zubak responds with full assuredness -- Alexander Brintzer." Morevski, with tremendous devotion clung faithfully to every word Ansky wrote, started to beat his head against the wall and ran away from the hearing. For a long time thereafter Zubak was called Alexander, instead of Israel.

In 1925, due to long time unemployment, Zubak was locked out of the Yiddish Artists' Union. He then put together a group of amateurs and dragged himself around to many smaller Yiddish towns. These towns were those that the larger troupes of the Yiddish Professional Artist Union did not visit. His group fell apart, so he went to a small town and put together a troupe of amateurs and staged a presentation. By doing this he managed to have a small income. This went on year after year. Later he brought in a chorister from Vilna named Sara, with whom he wed. Together with her it became a bit easier, because he was now married; the basic theatrical earnings were always all his. Together they acted in many plays; he as the hero and she the heroine.

In 1936 as I was driving by day in the small town Zshaludak, I noticed that a tall young man was pasting a theatre poster on a wall. I was intrigued by the poster. I approached: on the poster, written in large letters was written: Guest appearance by Sara and Israel Zubak. The person who was pasting the poster was Zubak himself. He was very embarrassed -- "Please understand -- he said to me -- the person who normally pastes the posters is sick."  ...Later drinking a schnapps he confided in me: "Thereís no money to pay someone to paste posters." He had no choice but to do it himself. When the State Theatre was created in Vilna his old friends made a great effort to bring him into the theatre. It was at least ten years till that theatreís lights finally went dim. His luck was similar to the luck of that theatre. It was soon as the Germans marched into Vilna a terrible fear fell upon him. There could be no way now to act in the theatre. However, none of his friends wanted to see him  lose his work in the theatre. He was given a job behind the scenes. His intuition never failed him. On 16 July 1941 he was taken away by the "Chappers," those who snatched Jews for the Nazis.

According to Yehoshua Borodov, Zubak was a weak actor. In the Vilna Yiddish theatre in the Ghetto he was not assigned work. Finally he was given the job of prompter.

From a notification in Sh. Kaczerginskiís book "The Destruction of Vilna," both Zubak and his wife were murdered in 1941 in Ponar.

 NB: a kloyz is a synagogue generally headed by a prominent scholar appointed by the founder and was frequented by selected scholars. Sometimes a kloyz was a house of prayer and study for people from a specific trade, such as butchers or merchants.

M.E. from Yehoshua Borodov.

  • Sh. Kaczerginski -- "Destruction of Vilna," N.Y., 1947, p. 232.

  • Sh. Bliacher -- "Eyn un tsvantsik un eyner," N.Y., 1962, pp. 77-79.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4014.

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