Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Jacob Kirschenbaum


K. was born on 28 October 1885 (according to "Who is Who in American Jewry," it was 1884) in Dolina, near Stryi, Galicia. He learned in a cheder, and in a folks shul. At the age of twelve he arrived in America, worked in wig making, became active in the Jewish socialist and professional movements.

Sholem Perlmutter recalls that K. on a truck on Houston Street led a struggle for the former socialist leader Richter Penkin, Joseph Barondess et al, and he did so with a great deal of courage and energy, with excellent speaking power, impetus and fidelity, so that in a short time he gained the full trust of the Jewish masses.

In 1905 he wrote correspondences in the "Canadian Eagle," "St. Louis Courier," "The Yiddish World" in Cleveland, "The Yiddish Journal" in Toronto, "Togblat" in Lemberg, and was a contributor in the humoristic journals, "Der kibitser" and "Der yidisher gazlen," and by himself edited a humoristic supplement, "Der shtodt-shaygetz." In 1907 he published a weekly page, "The Friend," dedicated to those from his country. He wrote accounts and articles about Jewish life in America and Galicia in J. Pfeffer's "Yidishes vokhenblat." In 1912 he became one of the main contributors and local editors for "The Yiddish World" in Cleveland, where in 1915, according to his and Harry Bergstein's initiative, there was built by the former American ambassador in France, Myron Herrick, a Yiddish theatre, which was managed by K.

K. traveled America and described the journey in the American Yiddish provincial newspapers, coming back to New York and became an internal contributor for the "Morning Journal," chiefly as a reporter, first about immigration, mutual aid societies, then for interviews with prominent people who come to visit, or to settle themselves in America, and later as the permanent theatre reporter.

K. also participated in "Dos yidishe folk," and in "Amerikaner," and wrote correspondences in the Jewish provincial newspapers, as in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Canada, and also in Argentina, most of the time about Yiddish theatre.

K. also was the manager of the Actors' Union Local 18. Besides his writing activity, he also began with community activism. In the time of the First World War, he was supporting director for the "Jewish Welfare Board," and directed Yiddish concerts for the Jewish soldiers, opening Yiddish libraries in the barracks. For a time K. was the secretary of the Union of the Galicia and Bukovina Jews in America, and was active in the relief movement for the landsmanshaftn (mutual aid societies).

K. was the first to publish in the "Morning Journal," under the name, "New Faces on our Stage," i.e. biographies of the younger generation of Yiddish actors, general weekly reviews about Yiddish theatre, speaking with actors and theatre entrepreneurs, and in "Amerikaner" published for a long time a series, "In the World of Theatre." He also anonymously edited various periodical publications of Yiddish theatres, and there wrote articles under the name, "Dr. Kritikus," "A doliner."

For a long time K. traveled across America, this time is a bus, and after publishing about the trip a series of articles in the press, he had published them in a book, "America -- The Country of Wonder" (Warsaw, Kh. Brzoza Publishers, 1939, 336 pp.), where there was also here a special chapter about theatre restaurants and the "Cafe Royal."

K. passed away on 25 October 1946 in New York.

K. also was a member of the committee of the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

K.'s son, Walter, from his first wife, for a certain time was an English journalist, and now is the director of public relations for the Jewish Workers Committee in America.

K.'s second wife was the Yiddish actress Ruth Renney (Tabaksblat). K.'s sister, Rose, is married to the Yiddish writer Dr. Shmuel Margoshes, and K.'s brother was married to a sister of actor Max Gabel.

Sholem Perlmutter characterizes K. during his sixtieth birthday:

"Jacob Kirschenbaum is the thermometer of the Jewish streets, a fountain of energy, rich in experiences, loaded with innumerable people's duties, the impoverishment of popular sentiment, of soul-giving, always in agony for everything and for all. ... At every opportunity you hear his word and you see his father. ... Everything that interests him in Jewish life may be the workers' movement, migrant immigrants, Yiddish theatre, a Chasidic rabbi, Land of Israel, war bonds, Galician Jews, landsmanshaftn (mutual aid societies), a good cantor, a burial, an anniversary, a mass meeting, a convention -- he has everything in his life."

Jacob Botoshansky writes:

"...In the 'Royal" community ... there is seen late into the night, and he springs from table to table. he does not tell any gossip, God forbid, but he creates contact. He really was a kind of kibitzer. He never became a theatre critic. He always remained the theatre kibitzer."

And the poet A. Lutzky in his song, "A yid in amoliger ist-sayd (A Jew in the Former East Side?)," says among others:

"He lifted his eyes like a scream from the stage
The hand outstretched with a mighty gesture
The voice -- not a voice --
It is fire and flames."

And Zalmen Zylbercweig portrays him as such:

"...'Yankele' knew it all meant the well-known Jacob Kirschenbaum. This name gave him feelings of love that everyone had for him because of his simplicity, his 'good brotherhood' and intimacy. Kirschenbaum never wrote about what matters as an outside person, a writer, but as a family member, as an individual, and this relationship was noted in everything he wrote. But in the former years J. Kirschenbaum was one of the speakers of the Yiddish streets in New York, and It was his approach, the tempestuous and indifferent, that remained in his writing. ... Whether he later started writing about Yiddish theatre has always been permeated with unbridled love and enthusiasm. He was a Chasid in his writing. The warmth with which he writes has often burned the weak sides and the shortcomings of the individual or institution, of which he wrote. ... Jacob Kirschenbaum was also among the number of Yiddish writers who swore eternal love for the Yiddish theatre and actors. In this respect he remained a literary patriot of the Yiddish theatre. He still knew every one of the first builders and founders of the Yiddish theatre. Avraham Goldfaden himself went out and came in with his mother in the home. He still attended the Yiddish theatre on the famous Galerie by Professor Horowitz, and with many of the famous actors of the day, dreamed alone to become an actor. He always knew their virtues and their faults. In his admiration for the Yiddish theatre as a national factor in the difficult Jewish lives in America, and even across the entire world, he downplayed the flaws in his editing, but in the newspaper he wrote only about the virtues, and no one came to him to discuss his heart disease, like his manner, with a high tone and temperament, about a bad word thrown on the Yiddish theatre, or the Yiddish actor.

His countless reviews, reviews, speeches and characterizations of the Yiddish theatre impresarios, were an important part of the Yiddish theatre literature, and was the most important brick for the historian of Yiddish theatre for erecting the building of Yiddish theatre history."

  • Zalman Reisen -- "History of Yiddish Literature," Vol. III, pp. 660-62.

  • Jacob Kirschenbaum -- Vi ambqasador herik hot geboyt un oyfgehaltn a yidishn teater in klivland, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 3 April 1929.

  • Henry Hart -- Myron I. Herik; A Friend of the Jews," "Jewish Tribune," N.Y., April 12, 1929.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Yakob kirshenbaum vert 60 yor alt, "Morning Journal," 7 Nov. 1944.

  • Yankev Botoshansky -- Tsvishn yo un nayn, "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 27 Oct. 1946.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- Yakob kirshenbaum, der zhurnalist vos iz oykh geven a gezelshaftlekher tuer, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 28 Oct. 1946.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- Der nor-vos farshtorbener yakob kirshenboym hot gehat a folks-loyh, "Di yidishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 13 Nov. 1946.

  • A. Lutzky -- A yid in amolkier "ist-sayd," "Morning Journal," N.Y., 31 Dec. 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 2225.

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