Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Yitskhok Fishelewitz


Born on 24 June 1875 in Berislav, near Odessa, Ukraine. His parents were the owners of a leather business. He learned in a religious elementary school (cheder), completing a folk school, and a three-class secondary school (gymnazie) in Kherson. From childhood on he sang with a cantor. At the age of sixteen he became an employee in his uncle's manufacturing business, while at the same time playing with "amateurs."

After military service he traveled with a Jewish quartet (Bernstein, Malvina Borisovna [later known as Serotsky-Uger] and Bronstein) across Russia, and in 1902 he joined Kompaneyets in Kiev, debuting as Pethahiah" in Goldfaden's "Shmendrik," then until the Russian-Japanese War with Bernstein in Kiev Gubernia, and from there he went over to Sabsey in Kielce and then to Fiszon in Yekaterinoslav, where he played until 1905. For three years F. was the sole Yiddish director across Russia, and in 1908 he joined in Warsaw's Elizeum Theatre, where he participated in 1911 in the guest appearance of Morris Moskovitch, and about his
playing "Leyzer badkhan" in Gordin's "God, Man and Devil," Noakh Prilutski writes:

"A true surprise for the public was Mr. Fishelewitz as 'Leyzer badkhan.' Who would believe this clown, whose principal task is to make the audience cheer in 'Pintele yid,' by doing a dance as a small billy goat and other silly performances, could possess such an innermost, divine ember and possessing such deep, sincere, subtle, comic talent. He possesses such endeari9ng enthusiasm

and soft emotions. As if, woven from the finest silk threads. He appeared as a characterization of the fallen soul, which was borne perhaps to achieve a high goat, but which died in the forgotten places on the lonely Jewish street, yearning and yearning. He appears as a fool, while his innermost heart is torn and drips blood and tears.. An unfortunate people for whom Fishelewitz has to play only in circus roles!..."

In 1912 F. went over to play in the Yiddish theatre in Lodz (director Zandberg), and during the First World War he returned to Warsaw, where for a period of time, due to the prohibition against Yiddish theatre, he played Yiddish plays in Polish. Afterwards, he opened the "El Dorado" theatre in Warsaw (later called the "Venus"). After playing there for two years he returned to Ukraine, where he managed his own company. he returned once more to Warsaw, appearing as a guest performer for a short time. In 1912 he traveled to America. There he played for one season in Chicago, after which he played in the Adler-Serotsky troupe in Brooklyn's "Liberty" Theatre for several years. His work demanded that he traveled throughout the state. In 1927-28 he played in the Bronx McKinley Square Theatre. From 1929 to 1930 he was in Toronto, and then he returned once more to New York. Later he went back to Chicago, where he played for a short while and finally settled in Los Angeles. There he played periodically and passed away on 3 June 1955.

F.'s wife Jenny also performed in Yiddish theatre.

Zalmen Zylbercweig characterizes him in the following manner:

Fishelewitz was once a well-known person in Europe. Every group he played with was delighted to have him with them. He was a wonderful singer with a beautiful tenor voice. He was capable of singing a serious song or a couplet. His dancing was very amusing and yet gracious. He was also exactly suited to play in the overworked comedic roles, or in the historical or modern Yiddish operettas as in plays by Gordin or Libin.

When Morris Moskovitch came to Poland to perform as a guest artist, Fishelewitz, appearing as "Leyzer the clown," and did not receive any lesser praise from the critics for his performance as "Uriel the troublemaker" (Uriel Mazik). Fishelewitz was better as "Shmuel Shames" in "Pintele yid," or as "Shloymke" in Latayner's "Shloymke and Rikl," which played for a whole season in the Yiddish theatre in Europe... Here (in America) his glow disappeared. He even performed in second-class troupes...but he could no longer capture that which was lost. He was never a union member. As things went from bad to worse in the professional Yiddish theatre (especially in the out-of-town theatre), so too for him. There was a brief period of time when Fishelewitz managed to make a living in New York, going around selling socks, especially among the actors. But life delivered even worse blows to him. His one and only son was attacked by gangsters and eventually died. Fishelewitz, now an elderly man, moved to Los Angeles and settled there. There he played from time to time with out-of-town stars who would come to Los Angeles and hire local actors. Or at times he would even join a troupe that was put together locally. He spend time with "amateurs," or with children in children theatres. He didn't have to worry about his food. Uncle Sam took care of that. He lived in Boyle Heights, once a Jewish enclave. He joined two societies and lived out his life with his old memories.

  • Noach Prilutzky -- "Yiddish theatre," Bialystok, 1921, Vol. II, pp. 31-32.

  • [--] -- Baym frishn kbr fun yitskhok fishelvitsh e"h, "Forverts," Los Angeles, 12 June 1955.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- Der toit fun 2 alte yidishe aktoren, "Forverts," N.Y., 5 July 1955.







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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2217.

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