Lives in the Yiddish Theatre



Descended from Russia. Was for a short time in the land of Israel, and because of this his name in Hebrew became "Khaklai." Later he settled in Bessarabia, and during the First World War from there he deserted to Romania.

Jacob Botoshansky writes:

Brown and terrifyingly nervous, his bulging eyes constantly seemed to bulge larger and larger. He was a fiery Hebraist. Despite this he wrote Yiddish songs and above all he wanted Jacob Botoshansky to print them in "The Hammer." However they were not printable. He grew angry because his feelings were hurt, even though he himself read his poems only for simple girls and women. Though his poems were received but mocked, they were Khaklai’s own poems, and he enjoyed writing them. He was naturally a sentimental and even a poetic person. He also played the violin. People could see that though he had deep emotions he could not express them.

...He was involved with many things, but he always gave up too soon. He came to Yankl with a plan. He wanted for the two of them to write a drama. Yankl thought up a drama that would be called "The Last Ones." They came up with a hero who would resemble Shneur Zalman Schechter from Liadi who was so fanatical because he feared that he was the last real Jew. (Peretz Hirshbein wrote his play "The Last One" upon this same theme.) The hero tried with his wily energy to guard his house and not invite anyone to visit his daughters. The second hero should have been a type like Yankl, who represented a new kind of Yiddishkayt. He falls in love with "The Last One’s" Jewish daughter and a fight breaks out. The father tries with wily energy to guard his house and not invite anyone to visit his daughters. Yankl, his partner, accepted his suggestions and both began to write. Truth be told, Khaklai never had the patience to write. He only gave advice from time to time. …However, he did derail the project from its original purpose. Khaklai proposed that the young hero should be a drunk and a cynic; that he should even laugh about God himself and all idealistic notions. He thought that the only true comfort could be found in a flask. …Unfortunately Khaklai got his way. …The play did not turn out to be that which Yankl had intended. The old hero reflected his world correctly, but Spitzberg (the younger hero) turned out to be far from what Yankl wanted. Later Khaklai boasted that this play was more his play rather than Yankl’s. Ideologically he (Khaklai) was very correct.

Both authors hired a group of young actors and they staged the play. Yankl played Spitzberg and Khaklai was realistic enough not to play any role at all. The play was performed once in Galatz and once in Braila (both in Romania). Materially it earned a good sum of money. Morally it had a modest following.  …Yankl understands, till today, why he wasn’t praised. There was a difference of opinion about this play. There were its admirers, but on the other hand the knowledgeable, professional show business people in Poland said: Garbage!

The play was later staged in Bucharest with the performance of the theatrical songwriter Yaakov Sternberg. The financial outlay was so great that they barely covered their expenses. But the patron Zisu, did not demand a return of his investment in the performance. Instead he put money aside as a back-up fund. Botoshansky injured his hand during one performance, so badly that he had to be taken to a hospital. There they held a very serious discussion between him and his partner/writers. B. describes the discussion in this manner:

Lying in bed, Yankl had a difference of opinion with Khaklai who wanted half of the "take." Yankl showed him a very clear accounting sheet, showing that there was no "take" from this performance. The expenses were barely covered. Khaklai however, did not receive any advantage from his "prestige" in the play, whatever it was, even though the play was a flop.  When Yankl walked through the Jewish neighborhoods people would proudly point at him. But Yankl was not responsible that his partner, Khaklai received no respect. Playing on his own was not what he wanted, and fame and renown were not what he craved. Khaklai knew that Yankl had Zisu’s money of which he, Yankl, wanted half.  He did not succeed in this matter. The whole conflict ended with an insult and a slap. No one witnessed this... Yankl did not feel personally insulted and gave his share of the play to Khaklai his partner, and so he finished with him. He always felt that he earned the slap for writing such a play.

  • Jacob Botoshansky — "The Life Story of a Yiddish Journalist," Buenos Aires, 1942, pages 120-124 and 144-49.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5177.

Translation courtesy of Paul Azaroff.

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