Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Yitzhak Frenkel


Born on 15 April 1889 in Podu Iloaiei, Romania, to Chasidic parents. Until age twelve he learned in a kloyz with the local rabbi. Then he went with his family to Iasi, where his father was a cantor in Rabbi Zalman's kloyz. There F. became a choir boy and met other choir boys, while at the same time a chorister in a Yiddish theatre where Kalmen Juvelier and Itsikl Goldberg played. Secretly F. had visited the theatre productions, thus becoming "connected." There he joined as a chorister, where his father caught him thereof, subsequently driving him away from home.

In 1907 F. immigrated to America where he began to work in New York as a bookbinder, and he soon became a member of Morris Morrison's dramatic club, as well as in other clubs, later in the "Mendele Mokher Sefarim Yiddish Folks Stage" in Philadelphia.

Professionally he began with Anshel Schorr in Philadelphia, then in other various troupes, such as that of Max Gabel in the Gold Theatre, Glickman's Palace Theatre, in the Yiddish Art Theatre, several seasons as stage manager and in episodic roles with Elving in Newark, where at the same time he staged with "amateurs" a series of literary one-acters in various clubs, with Jennie Goldstein at the Hopkinson, and with Satz at the Parkway Theatre. Being a member of the "League" for several years, F. for a series of years stood its head and directed with many theatres across the province.

F. also wrote the scenarios and by himself performed in the Yiddish films "Der groyser etsh-geber," "Ir tsveyte mame," and "Eli, Eli."

On 15 July 1956, F. passed away in New York and was brought to his eternal rest at Beth David Cemetery. His son, Yankel, had as a child and as a young student, also acted on the Yiddish stage.

Nate Shehnfeld, speaking about F.'s testimonial evening in 1942 in Cleveland, wrote:

"He had [been] all of the time in literary circles and created a great number of friends among Jewish writers and journalists, who had about him a very positive attitude.... besides the theatre, he always was interested in the work of Jewish folk institutions, which many of them he has helped create and continually supported. He is one of the original founders of the Jewish National Home for Orphans in New York, where he is a member of the Executive (Board/Committee). He is also a member of the Administration Committee of "ORT" and of the Executive (Board/Committee) of the "Joint," where he fartret the union of Romanian Jews in America, for which he is one of their vice-presidents. He also balangt the union of Jewish organizations and is a member of the United Jewish Appeal, of HIAS and for other organizations".

Zalmen Zylbercweig, F.'s a very close friend, maintains that F. was the "number one patriot of the Yiddish theatre." "There was nothing that was too difficult that he was not willing to do for the Yiddish theatre, whether it was a matter of rewriting a play or a role, performing a role, learning with an actor a role, creating clothing or theatrical properties, exhibiting a stage, writing advertisements or 'publicity' for a theatre or an actor, selecting some scene or a notice in an older newspaper, stand by the door and take tickets, tour in a city, rent a theatre, or hang posters, even removing a package from the theatre; everything he had done for the love he had for his darling 'Yiddish theatre.' A favor to do for a person generally, even for a showman or a writer, [was] not any obstacle, not even when, due to his fierce sugar illness (probably diabetes -- ed.), they had to amputate a foot, all while he was crying while catching a bus, or traveling on a subway. He had, in the summer and winter, not thought about [making an] income, feeling really happy to be able to serve. His greatest reward was to see a good play and a well-attended theatre production."

Sh. E. and M. E. from Zalmen Zylbercweig.

  • Yitzhak Frenkel -- Nayn-togige vundr, "Di idishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 23 Oct. 1940.

  • Nate Shehnfeld -- Yitzhak frenkel -- der aktyor un khll tuer, "Di idishe velt," Cleveland, 4 March 1942.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2924.

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