Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Dr. Tsvi Bikels-Spitzer

Born 23 April 1887 in Lemberg, Galicia. His father, the owner of a food store, was descended from a respected professor, and from a messianic family by the name of Bikels.

He studied both in a religious elementary school (cheder) and in a public school, finishing in a gymnasia in 1906. He received his doctorate in jurisprudence in 1911 from Lemberg University, where he studied simultaneously both law and Lithuanian literary and drama history.

As a member of the Zionists student circle "Shokher" (sic. probably slang for policemen), which was under the leadership of Shlome Siler, Dr. Y. Tohon, and Adolph Stand, B. (Bikels) became a zealous student of the local courses of “Judaica," familiarizing himself with Jewish history and Hebrew language, and mastering both language and writing skills. But in opposition to his party friends, he held that one is not permitted to neglect the cultural work of the masses in the “Diaspora," and he became one of the first fighters for Yiddish in Galicia.

Energetic and consistent in his decision, B. almost totally neglected his work in Polish literature (in the Polish-Yiddish periodicals of the contemporary student circles) and dedicated himself to criticism and publication in Yiddish in order to lay the groundwork for a field in Yiddish literature in Galicia. As a member of the “Yiddish Weekly," “The New Life (New York) and “The Friend," he uncovered the Yiddish literature and work of the young Galician writers and became generally “the herald of the young Yiddish literature in Galicia” (according to Dr. A. Klayman.)

B. participated in almost all the contemporary periodicals and publications in Galicia (“The Jewish Workers,"  Lemberg, “The Day," Krakow, in G.Bader’s and M. From’s “Calendar et al,” edited in 1910, together with G. Bader and J. Mestel, the collective writing, “Young Galicia Almanac." In 1915 B. became the chief editor of the Lemberger “Day Paper," in which he had an altogether free range as a literary and theatre critic.

After his gymnasia studies, B. organized a drama circle of students, in which he himself directed and performed, mostly in Polish, one man shows on Yiddish nationalistic themes. Except for his love of theatre, he sidelined all his other studies and became an actor; he even became a student in the drama school of the Polish State Theatre in Lemberg; but because of his diminutive body stature, he had to give up acting and dedicate himself, first of all, to Yiddish theatre criticism.

B. had dreamed about a big Yiddish artistic stage company, which he hoped to found with public and societal support. In order to reach such a performance level, he had to, along with J. Mestel in 1913, make a journey to Austria and Germany to study their performance theatres and methods. At the same time he wanted to travel to France and England to make similar studies; but because of the threat of war on the horizon, he had to cut his trip short.

Between the great number of B.’s critics and opposition to Yiddish theatre, B. decided to change his focus and began a bigger task, an analysis ot the Gordon repertoire, which he published in various Galician and foreign publications.

Dr. Anselm Klayman characterized B’s themes as a critic as such: ”Tsvi Bikels-Spitzer has set his foot on the field of creative criticism….before he occupied himself with such difficult concepts, he immersed himself in theoretical considerations of these matters, studying a long time in the greatest university libraries in Lemberg and Vienna; and with the zeal of a busy bee likened himself in the creation of a lamenting poet, who had come up against a cutting apart of his work by his critical spirit. His pet writer from the world of Yiddish literature, for whom he had great admiration and fondness, was Y.L. Peretz; and from the young world of Galician literature, he held great respect and fondness for Jacob Mestel upon whom he had a great influence ….. Tsvi Bikels-Spitzer was one of the acclaimed critics of the Yiddish aspirations to Europeanize the Yiddish theatre and actors, and to defend the so-called Americanization of the Yiddish stage. Not only with his pen did he help to transform the Yiddish theatre in Galicia, he also very often personally exerted his influence on the Yiddish actors world; but if a new necessary “stick” came on the stage, he did not spare time or energy to try to speak out about his ideas and to give a positive turn of advice."

On 2 January 1917, B. died after an operation in a Lemberg hospital.  The funeral was arranged as a eulogy by the Lemberg Culture Community, along with a lot of other organizations; and the community observed a four-week period of mourning.

Among B’s surviving manuscripts were discovered some dramas; one was a three act drama “The Savior” (on the theme of the Rambam’s legend about creation and the eternal men). The drama, translated into German by Max Reinhardt, a German-Jewish producer who wanted to stage the drama; but because of the outbreak of World War I, it was never produced.

The Jewish manuscript of the “The Savior” was discovered by J. Mestel,

  • Dr.A.Klayman --- Tsvi Bikels-Spitzer, “T”Bl,” (Tog Blat) Lemberg, 12 Teyves, 5676.

  • A.Tenenblat -- Dr. Tsvi Bikels, “T”Bl," Lemberg, 4 January 1917.

  • Dr. M. Gayer -- The Loyal Fighter, “T”Bl," Lemberg, 8 January 1917.

  • Y.M. Kamila, (J. Mestel) Memoirs, “T”Bl," Lemberg, January-February 1912.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 164.

English translation courtesy of Earle Halsband.

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