Lives in the Yiddish Theatre



Mendel Elkin


Born in 1873 in the village of Brozshe near Bobruisk, White Russia. His parents were not true villagers. His father was fanatically religious, At forty five years of age, he was a freethinker. Notwithstanding the opinions one had in the home, special religious teachers were maintained for E., who then learned for a year in a Bobruisk yeshiva, eating "daily." At the age of twelve he was forced to look for income as an employee in a forest, then became an extern, graduating as a dentist in Kharkov and practiced for several years in Bobruisk.

From his early youth he manifested a strong love for the theatre and later collaborated in Kugel's "Theatre and Arts."

In 1894 he performed for the first time on the stage in Russian, then became the leader of a dramatic circle in Bobruisk, with whom he staged in Russian a series of plays from European repertoire. In 1907 he was editor of a radical Russian newspaper in Minsk and there was the manager of the local arts society. Having a close friendship with A. Weiter, they both worked on a plan to reform the Yiddish theatre in Russia and to this purpose they translated (together with Sarah Reizen -- each of them one act)Max Halbe's play "Der shtrom (The River?)," E. also had translated  under the name of "The Stepchildren" the Russian play, "Living Stepsons[?]" by David Ben-Ari [David Manevitsh], and since then has devoted himself to the Yiddish stage, occupying himself at the same time with the wood trade.


In 1908 E. took part in concerts with Sam Adler's troupe, in which he performed (with N. Neroslavska, Jacob Ben Ami and Lazar Freed) his translation "The Stepchildren," acting in the role of "Kapellmeister." The play had a great success and several months later he was invited to become the permanent stage director in the troupe (Kiev, Theatre Berganye), but he put himself in connection with the "Hirshbein Troupe", with which he came to Warsaw and planted himself here (together with Hirshbein, David Herman and A. Weiter) and staged Peretz's "The Golden Chain", which came but did not stay.

For a long time E. occupied himself with propagandizing in the province, especially in Lita, for the Warsaw "Yiddish Theatre Society." In 1912 he published (together with A. Kirshnitz) three volumes of "Bobruisk Weekly," which was principally dedicated to theatre and arts questions and also founded  the publishing house "Menachem," which issued Peretz Hirshbein's "Mayn bukh (My Book)" and "Di puste kretshme (The Idle Inn)."

1918 -- being manager of the Petrograd Theatre Society, [and] E. organized a theatre studio and with the understanding of A. Azarch (Granovsky), A. Weiter and Sh. Niger he founded "A kamer-teater (A chamber theatre[?])" for experimentation, which E. maintained with his own earned money, until he staged Sholem Asch's "Amonon and Tamar" and "Tsum vinter" (31 June 1919), which only "amateurs" took part in. This studio later became the nucleus of "Mim't."

In 1919 he arrived in Vilna, where he directed with the "Theatre Society" and staged there a series of plays and "artistic evenings."

Then E. settled in Warsaw where he presented on 27 March 1921 with the Vilna Troupe Sholem Asch's "Amnon and Tamar" and "Der zindiker" and published articles on theatre and art themes in the periodical publications "Lebn," "Kultur," and "Yiddish Theatre" (of which he was also co-editor of volumes 4 and 5.)

In the third convention of the Yiddish actors in Poland, E was selected as chairman of the Professional Yiddish Artists Union in Poland and remained in that position until 1932, when he went off to America, where he tried to create a secular Yiddish actors organization. As one of the initiators and founders of the Yiddish theatre society in New York, E. was general secretary, teacher in its dramatic studio and (together with Dr. Mukdoni) was editor of her organ "Tealit" [November 1923-March 1924].

In August 1925 E. staged (under freyen himel) in the Arbeter Ring camp "Kinderland," with the participation of one hundred and fifty children, his dramatization "Der gliklekher prints" ["Der gliklekher prints, a children's play in one act, according to Oscar Wilde, from Mendel Elkin, published by the Education Department of the Arbeter Ring, 1929, 40 pp., 16].

After the disintegration of the "Theatre Society," he managed (together with David Pinski, Peretz Hirshbein, H. Leivick and Chaim Schneyer) the "Unzer Theatre," where on 9 December 1925 thre was staged under the direction of E., Egon Brecher and Peretz Hirshbein Sh. An-ski's "Day and Night" [with E.'s writing of the second act, which under the name of "Small's Government (?)" was published in the collection book "Shriftn" VIII. E. later, together with David Pinski, adapted the same play and gelozt translation into English.]

1926-27 -- was secretary, librarian and play speaker in the Irving Place Theatre (Manager -- Jacob Ben Ami), in which he used to perform with the reading of the Sunday Frimorgans (?).  Here he also translated Yushkevich's "Ale in moskes huts eyner," which however was not staged.

1928 -- founded a children's theatre studio, with which he, on 26 April 1928,  staged in the Yiddish Art Theatre his adaptation of "Bum un dreydl, in three acts and four scenes, by N. Shklyar, music -- A. Ellstein; dance -- Lilly Shapero, Scenery -- A. Chertov; Costumes -- Van Rosen," which also in 1921 was published in his translation in the Vilna Kletzkin publishing house.

In the summer of 1923 E. directed a camp for children, where he staged various children's plays and sketches, including his play "Motl tremp (Motl the Tramp)" ["Motl tremp, a children's play in one act by Mendel Elkin, issued by the Education Department of the Arbeter Ring, 1928] and also used to perform by himself with monologues and sketches.

On 1 May 1932 in New York E. was honored for his thirty years in theatre and cultural activities.

E. also translated the plays: "Max nordau. Two Worlds (Doctor Kon), a drama in four acts, translated by M. Elkin. Vilna publishing house of B. A. Kletzkin." [1921, 103 pp., 16], which was performed through L. Sokolov, and "B. Shaw, Candida, a mystery in three acts, Vilna publishing house of B. A. Kletzkin" [1921] and dramatized (for Jacob Ben Ami) Dostoyevsky's "Idiot," which until today was never performed.

E. (together with Jacob Mestel) was the initiator and manager of the theatre exhibition for the Yiddish theatre museum in New York in 1926 and in 1927 edited the "Anniversary Collection Book for the 50-Year Birthday of Dr. A. Mukdoni" [24 pp., 12].

In "Vayter-bukh" there was published an interesting letter exchange between E. and A. Weiter.

E.'s daughter, Esther, is a pianist and often performs as an accompanist on the piano for Yiddish concerts.

E.'s plays and translations in Yiddish:

[1] Max Nordau
Two Worlds (Doctor Kon)
A drama in 4 acts
translated by M. Elkin
publishing house of B. A. Kletzkin
[1921, 1903 p. 16]

[2] B. Shaw
Mystery in 3 acts
Yiddish M. Elkin
Vilna publishing house of B. A. Kletzkin [1921]

[3] N. Shḳlyar
Bum un dreydl
A  story
Yiddish M. Elkin
Vilna publishing house of B. A. Kletzin [1921]

[4] Mendel Elkin
Small's Stories
[texts of the 2nd act of Sh. An-ski's "Day and Night"
"Shriftn," N. Y., VIII, 1925]

[5] Motl tremp
A children's play in one act
by Mendel Elkin
Published by the Education Department of the Arbeter Ring
Arbeter Ring Children's Library [1928]

[6] Der gliklakher prints
A children's play in one act
According to Oscar Wilde
Published by the Education Department
Arbeter Ring 1929 [40 pp., 16]

Sh. E. and Sh. E. from Jacob Mestel

  • Z. Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. II, pp. 770-773.

  • M. Elkin -- Mayn letste bagegnish mit bel-mekhshbus, "Tealit," N. Y., February 1924.

  • Dr. Jacob Shatzky -- Der "gliklakher prints" in "kinderland," "Fraye arbayter shtime," N. Y., 14 August 1925.

  • A. Glantz -- Der farendigter teater-sezon, "Der tog," N. Y., 3 May 1929.

  • Dr. A. Mukdoni -- Zikhrunus fun a yidishn teater-kritiker, "Archive," Vilna, 1930, pp. 406, 410, 421.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1572.

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