Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Zishe Kornblit


Born on 28 September 1872 in Tchan (Teofilpol) Volhynia. Father- Hillel a passionate Zinkiver Chasid, a scholar, and an avid teacher. At the same time a worldly person. His mother owned a small shop to help with the household income.
Till the age of fifteen, K. studied Bible and Talmud with his father and with several other teachers. Under the influence of exposure to somewhat sentimental, Yiddish novels he began to write melodramatic Yiddish poetry. However, once he had learned to read Russian and German and became more familiar with the literature of these languages, he discarded his earlier writings.

In 1892 he traveled to America and his impressions in the New World reawakened his urge to write. His writing debut was through poetry which appeared in the "Arbeter tzaytung." After that he started to write short stories that pleased his editors more than his poetry. However, in order to support himself he worked making children's pants, and later he became a grocery supplier. When the Forwards newspaper first appeared, he became one of its original staff members. He was a news reporter for many years. He later branched out and wrote articles and stories for several newspapers. These items made him a very popular reporter for the Forwards readership.  According to Zalman Reisen, K. wrote more than thirty novels in various newspapers. From these only a small number had any literary worth.

He always had a desire to write for the theatre. His first attempt to do so was made in 1904. Regarding this effort, Sholem Perlmutter, wrote: "Kornblit came to the Yiddish stage at a time when the Yiddish theatre was controlled by a group of  .

playwrights who had blocked the entry of any new Yiddish dramatist. When we read what the critics in the press said about his works, we learn how much tension and rejection he had to withstand, how much difficulty he had to endure, and what a heavy burden the Yiddish theatre had placed on him. In those days it was a very difficult ordeal fighting one's way to create a path to the stage. Kornblit nonetheless did find his way but with many sacrifices and heartaches."

About his first play there are several conflicting variations: According to Zalman Reisen, his first stage production was "The Jewish Daughter," featuring Berta Kalich, which proved to be a failure. However, according to Leon Kristal, his first stage production was "After the Ball" in 1904, which was directed by Jacob P. Adler in the Thalia Theatre. But according to another article in the Yiddish press, it was the play, "Moshe Rabeinu," aka "The Jews in the Desert," which was written by Zeifer[t] and Kornblit, music by Mogulesco and Spivack, which was staged on 8 January 1904 and produced by Boris Thomashefsky. None of these productions were performed again, nor were they ever published. However K.'s actual debut, which bound him to the Yiddish theatre forever, was his play "True Happiness, or, Motye Melech the Carpenter." He read it for Jacob Gordin. Gordin liked it very much. In that same year it was staged in the Thalia Theatre. And although Jacob Adler and Zelig Mogulesco both gave outstanding performances, the play was not a financial success. However, it established K. as a Yiddish playwright. K. was much too humble -- he did not believe in his own talent. After the performance of his first play, he was not heard from for the next three years.

"True Happiness," which became better known as "Motye Melech the Carpenter," had a long life in the repertoire of the Yiddish theatre and was later performed by Morris Moskowitz performing in the title role. The play was also one of the most popular dramas in the repertoire of Yiddish theatres all over the world. Completely unknown to K., it was published in Przemysl with many errors and mistakes in 1908. This same play was later edited and reworked by the author as a comedy called "The Once-Famous Cabaret Girl." Sholem Perlmutter tells us in great detail about the reincarnation of this newly reworked piece. Yet later it was rewritten by Anshel Schorr and produced by him in 1922. At this time it was called "The Cabaret Girl" and was performed in Philadelphia's Arch Street Theatre.

On 22 February 1906 K.'s play, "The American Aunt," was staged in the People's Theatre with Bessie Thomashefsky performing in the title role. This play was never again staged, nor was it ever published. In March 1907 K.'s play, "Troubles with Children," was brought onto the stage. This play was never again performed and also was never published. (A manuscript of this play can be found in the YIVO Archives). On the 27 September 1907 (According to B. Gorin it was incorrectly dated as 1912) the play, "The Bundist or The Revolution in Russia," was staged in the Windsor Theatre with Kenny Lipzin in the title role. This play was also never again performed and was never published.

On 7 October 1907 Boris Thomashefsky staged and performed in the "People's Theatre" in K.'s Yiddish translation of Osip Dymow's (Yosef Perelman's) "Shma Yisroel."

On 9 October 1911 in Adler's "Thalia Theatre" there was presented K.'s romantic family drama in four acts, "The Tiger," with Jacob P Adler, Boris Thomashefsky and featuring Sarah Adler in the starring role. The author preferred to call this play, the "Yiddish Monna Vanna." It was retitled because it was based on the subject in Metterlink's "Monna Vanna." The play was later staged in America under the auspices of Leon Blank. It was often performed on the Yiddish stage in Europe. It too was never published. (A manuscript can be found within the YIVO Archives). In 1912 K.'s play, "The Lost Children," was presented.

In 1912 K. became the official dramatist in Keni Lipzin's theatre, where on 2 April 1912 there was staged, "Her First Sin," a drama in four acts, with Keni Lipzin in the main role. The play was never performed again, nor was it ever published. On 3 August 1912 there was staged, "Correct Rights," in four acts, with Keni Lipzin and Sigmund Mogulesco in the main roles. The play, which is a parody of the English play, "Bought and Paid For," was not performed again, nor was it ever published (a manuscript can be found within the YIVO Archives).

In 1913 there was staged K.'s play, "The Godly Song," which did not remain in the repertoire, and it was never published (a manuscript can be found within the YIVO Archives.)

On 10 January 1913 Max Gabel staged in his "Comedy Theatre," K.'s play, "Our Children," (ad adaptation of Max Halbe's "Youth"). It is possible that this might be the aforementioned play, "The Lost Children." A manuscript can be found within the YIVO Archives.

On March 2, 1917 in Thomashefsky's "National Theatre," through the efforts of Boris Thomashefsky, K.'s comedy in four acts "Uptown and Downtown", which was revised by Thomashefsky with music by J. Rumshinsky was staged.

About this play, Sholem Perlmutter wrote: "Kornblit has come up with new themes and a new set of issues for the Yiddish stage. 'Uptown' and 'Downtown' embodied two different Jewish social groups unfriendly to one another. 'Uptown' is where the wealthy Jews with full bellies lived--those who were already 'Americanized,' and who had put down roots in the American soil. And 'Downtown' was populated with poor immigrants/workers who felt the whip of the 'sweat shop' on their backs. They toiled for the bit of livelihood and who had an eternal tear in their eyes. ...this issue, K. took for his theme.

In his critique of this play, Abe Kahan wrote: "In Thomashefsky's theatre they are now presenting a play written by Z. Kornblit, which is to a certain respect a probing illumination on the Yiddish stage. Usually when we stage an operetta, a light piece with music and dance, it exists for only for its own sake and that is no sin. Its subject is no subject; there is no deep meaning in it, no theme. Usually it is a mish-mash of pranks and crocodile tears. Scenes with songs, dance, choir music, where everything is merely background or perhaps foreground. Kornblit's play, which is now playing in Thomashefsky's theatre, has an interesting subject and is built upon an interesting idea. It wants to take notice of either one or another aspect, but is it an operetta or is it a play? The theme in this play is a good one, but an operetta is too frivolous for such a theme. It is the subject for an earnest literary comedy, combined with tragedy."

In the history of Yiddish theatre and critique, B. Gorin, wrote about the same play: "From the first act we force ourselves to believe that the presenter of 'Uptown and Downtown' had it in his mind to create a comedy, and perhaps he succeeded in doing so. However, B. Thomashefsky was not altogether certain if the public wanted to see a comedy without trimming, and so he included a place for it in the play."

Moyshe Nadir wrote about this play: "'Uptown and Downtown' is not only a comedy for its own sake, but a rebellion against all the German and English and French comedies. The four acts exist so alienated from each other that when they might ever meet on the street, they would not have recognized one another. Even the dialogue is different in each act. The one God in the heavens above knows who is guilty: the author Kornblit or the stage director Thomashefsky. Who created the Yiddish dialogue in this play? It is not to be believed that the same hand was capable of writing such a fun and lively and red-blooded first act, and yet be capable of ruining the other three."

In regards to the problem of improving his play, Leon Kristal wrote: "Z. Kornblit has had no luck in the Yiddish theatre. His plays are frequently produced under horrible conditions. When a play by a dramatist has failed, and the theatre has to immediately salvage itself with another play, they would take hold of one of Kornbilt's plays. However there wasn't enough time under such conditions. Usually we would have to stage such an event with six or seven rehearsals. Theatre people, especially the "stars" who by their nature believed in themselves, thought that they know and understand theater better than the dramatists, and that they know what the audience wants to see and hear in the theatre." They always put their mark on the dramatist's work in order to improve the play. ...Kornblit had often complained about this "handling" by the stars, who were all too often also the owners of the theatre. When you asked one of them, who is directing this play, he would answer: "Whomever holds the lease for the theatre." Hence Kornblit never wanted to argue with the stars, and with great patience he suffered because he wanted to keep his own path onto the stage open. The sincere theatre critics very often could sense the unwanted hands in Kornblit's plays. And they always supported the value of Kornblit's endurance and ignored the cheap parts, which the actors had added to the play."

On 22 September 1920 (not 1918 as Perlmutter claimed) in the "People's Theatre," with great success K.s comedy, "Jennie Runs for Mayor", was presented with Bessie Thomashefsky in the title role. (The play was never again staged and was never published).

On 12 October 1923 Gustave Schacht presented in his "Ampion Theatre" K.s play, "Ruined Worlds," which was based in some measure upon Maupassant's story "Pierre and Jean". In April 1929 the play "Life Portrait in Four Acts" was staged in Buenos Aires in the "Argentina Theatre". This play was not preserved in the Yiddish repertoire and was also never published (a manuscript exists in the YIVO Archives).

Hillel Rogoff wrote: "Among all the melodramas that are now being presented in the Yiddish theatres in New York, Z. Kornblit's 'Lost Worlds' is the best. It is better written and better constructed than all the rest. Kornblit is a literary playwright. He belongs among the group of our very best dramatists. His pen contributed to the very best dramas in the Yiddish repertoire. Presently, his current play is, as I mentioned earlier, a melodrama. But this melodrama has another face because its author possesses literary intelligence and talent.

In May 1928 in the "Pavillion Theatre" in London, "Secrets of Love," written by Kornblit was staged. The play was never performed previously. Perhaps this play once had another name.

In 1928 Max Gabel presented K.'s play "The Father's Sins."

In February 1930, Ludwig Zaslowski staged in London K.'s play, "The Woman We Encounter," and in March 1939 Bertha Zaslowski played K.'s play in Buenos Aires, "Her Ruined Life". It is possible that both of the aforementioned plays had different names at one time.

In February 1930 Ludwig Zaslowski presented in London K.'s play, "The Woman Whom We Meet." And in March 1939 Berta Zaslowsky staged K.'s play in Buenos Aires, "Her Ruined Life."

In the YIVO Archives we can find the following manuscripts of K.'s plays: "Brayndele Kozak," adapted by Abraham Goldfaden, "A Father's Dream," a drama in four acts (also performed by the name "Today's Men"), "Countess Chana Dvoshe," a comedy in three acts, "Victory of Love" (The Cherry Tree), a comedy in four acts, "The Jewish Daughter," or "Heroes of our Times", a drama in four acts, "The Broken Vow" (known by the name "The Godly Song" as was "Our Women and "The Real Truth," a drama in four acts.

For a certain time K. also took part writing for the special dramatic section of the "Forward." K. published his one act play in the "Free Worker's Voice" (29 April 1910), "The Crises in Heaven," and from October till 19 November 1926 he published his three act comedy "Satan Strikes."

K. was the only editor of the "Jewish Stage," a weekly that represented all aspects of Yiddish drama and Jewish music, which Boris Thomashefsky produced in New York from 9 November till 29 April 1910.

In 1928 K. published his book "The Dramatic Arts" in New York (245 pages), comprising his lectures and discussions on Yiddish theatre. The book was based upon his principles and his theories of drama. In his book K. analyzes the plays "Shylock" and "King Lear" by Shakespeare, "God, Man and the Devil," "Mirele Efros," and "Chasia the Orphan" by Jacob Gordin, "Moshke the Pig" by I.D. Berkowitz, Goldfaden's "You Shall Not Lust," and the presentation by the Yiddish Art Theatre, The Happy Cantor," by Moshe Richter, and finally the play "American Chasidim" by Chone Gottesfeld.

About this book Jacob Mestel writes in his critique: "Sections of this book were previously printed in the New York journal, "Frayer Arbiter Shtime," which evoked a certain interest due to his earnest approach to the Yiddish theatre. K. make up for any shortcomings because of the sincerity by this auto-didactic writer. In the hands of this self-assured expert we have a handbook for dramatists. However, for the reader, we must say before we can recommend this book unreservedly, we need to warn the reader that some sections of the book have more value than others, and assuredly demonstrate through an analog, the correct and incorrect aspects of the book. The reviewer arrives at the conclusion: "In shorter, condensed form (through an experienced hand) it could be a useful, popular brochure, which could become a handbook for Yiddish dramatists. "

...The thoughts about the dramatic arts are fundamental. The authority follows Lessing's method of how to adopt Aristotle as a guide to the basic principles of drama. ...His style of writing about his colleagues or his timely experiences is a good one. His insights into Shakespeare's "Shylock" are exactly as they should be. So too are K.'s loftier meanings regarding Gordin's romantic talents. He writes well about drama and melodrama, and that is enough for us to forgive him his personal interpretations or his professional meanings and his certitude. His notion about illusion is a correct one. Though, many will be dissatisfied with his belief that Chassidism and Haskalah, Socialism and Zionism, are the same illusion of one another. The most difficult aspect with which to agree with his insights about realism that he at times portrays as illusion, and then sometimes that beauty is considerably different from ugliness, nudity or smut. This disgusting truth can sometimes be found among realists. However, his purposes are good and even the manner in which they are discussed in the prolog is a bit too sudden and appears to be choppy, demonstrating only that the critic is not always an artist. We need to give insight to the critic as to how should perceive a drama without being a specialist about the architecture of a book.

In March 1929 K. began to ail. He tried to free himself from directing, but his situation worsened. He was admitted to Beth Israel hospital, where he passed away on the first of May 1929.

K.'s son, Leon Kornblit, is a writer and one daughter Atily, is an English vaudeville actress (Atily Kardey), L. Kristal characterizes him (Zishe Kornblit) in this manner:

"Kornblit wrote a great deal in his life. He always thought of himself as a young man. . . . he always worked and awaited for the Yiddish theatre to once again see its true worth. They would stage the works which he continued to write, or those works which he would write under more auspicious circumstances. His ambitions did not emanate from one who was about to come to an end, rather from one who is in the first heat of his activity. . . .humor--good natured fun, which is in reality satire--was a high feature in his writings. There is no doubt that if Kornblit had specialized in writing humor, he could have become a significant humorist in the Yiddish press. He wrote several comedies, but even in his most serious pieces written for the stage there is a significant amount of humor and satire. Comedy is an infrequent occurrence on every stage, and on the Yiddish stage humor is even more infrequent compared to the other nations of the world. Kornblit had the ability to become a great comedy writer for Jews. He had, in fact, produced a substantial amount in this area, but he could have created lots more, if not for the iron fetters that our theatre placed upon him. This is not simply an assertion. When you examine the critics who were in different times in command of the press in regards to his plays, you immediately come across the kinds of awesome difficulties Kornblit, like every other educated and intelligent dramatist, had to withstand from the Yiddish theatre."

Hillel Rogoff characterizes his dramatizations in the following manner:

"As a dramatist he earned a place in the history of the Yiddish theatre. He wrote a number of substantial dramas and comedies, and many of them remained in the repertoire till today. Most of his plays belong to the category of melodramas, but none of them can be called shund. His language is clean and literary. His dialogue is often clever, humorous and is rich in content. He often creates a character on the stage who is a living type or an interesting situation."

Some curious qualities about K. is added by Mordche Danzig:

 "K. is a person with talent. A squandered talent, but heavenly grace breaks through from time to time. ...he can be higher than middling height. A gruesome face, which would suddenly be colored as though by drinking red dye, or as if by someone who suffered from high blood pressure. A disheveled mop of gray hair, under it a high brow, dark blue watery eyes, bloodshot as though from lack of sleep. He was always dressed in a dandified style, and he was a fine talker. He knew how to tell stories, most of them piquant, sometimes spicy."

Kornblit's printed plays:

[1] Kornbluth: Moti Melekh der stolyer Lebens bild in 4 akten Przemysl, 1908 (54 pages),16". Publisher Amkroyt and Friend.

(2) Der krizis in himl komedye in 1 akt fun Kornblit," "Frayer arbiter shtime," N.Y., 29 Oct. 1910.

(3) Der sotten shtraykt (A land on zind) "Frayer arbiter shtime," 1 October-19 November 1926.


  • Zalman Reizen -- "Leksikon fun yiddisher litaratur," Vol. IV, pp. 570-572.

  • B. Gorin -- "Geshikhte fun yidish teater," Vol. II, pp. 273, 281.

  • D.B. (Sh. Yanovsky) -- In di teater," "Fraye arbeter shtime," N.Y., 4 Dec. 1904.

  • Z. Kornblit -- Brif tzum redaktor, dort, 4 May 1907.

  • Yoel Slonim -- "Di bundistike" in kalish teater, Di varhayt," N.Y., 30 Sept. 1907.

  • A.K. (Abe Kahan) -- "Di bundistke" fun z. kornblit in kalish teater," "Forward," N.Y., 3 October 1911.

  • D.B. -- In teater, "Fraye arbeter shtime," 4 Oct. 1907.

  • D.B.-- In teater, dort, 21 October 1911.

  • A.K.-- In der yidisher teater velt, "Forward," N.Y., 14 October 1911.

  • W. Edlin -- In der velt fun drama un muzik, "Morning Journal," N.Y. 16 October 1911.

  • D.B.-- In teater, "Fraye arbeter shtime," N.Y., 14 Sept. 1912.

  • A.R. (Avraham Reiaen) -- Litaratishe-dramatishe nayes, "Di literatishe velt," N.Y., 24 January 1913.

  • Av. Kahan - -Kornblith's piese in tomeshevsky teater, "Forward," N.Y., 9 March 1917.

  • Kritikum (Morris Meyer) -- Der tiger, "Di taayt," London, 7 July 1922.

  • Hillel Rogoff -- Z. kornblith's "farshpilte veltn" in shacht's ampion teater, "Forward," N.Y., 19 Oct. 1923.

  • Kritukum- - "Soydes fun libe" fun z. kornblit oyfgefirt in pavilion teater, "Di tsayt," London, 9 May 1928.

  • Sh.P.-- "Farshpilte veltn" (fun z. kornblit) in teater, "Argentina, di prese," Buenos Aires, 21 April 1929.

  • N. Tzuker -- "Farshpilte veltn" fun kornblit in teater, "Argentiner tog," Buenos Aires, 21 April 1929.

  • Sh. R. (Rozshanski -- "'Farshpilte veltn," lebensbild in 4 aktn fun kornblit, "Yidisher tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 22 April 1929.

  • A. Petkovitzer-- "Farshpilte veltn" fun y.(.) kornblit oyfgefirt in teater Argentina, "Naye vort," Buenos Aires, N' 30, 1929

  • P. Viernik -- Undzer fil shprachiker literatur, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 10 February 1929.

  • (--) -- Z. kornblit, geshtorbn, "Forward," N.Y., 2 May 1929. 

  • L. Kristol -- Z. kornblit, dort, 7 May 1929.

  • Hillel Rogoff -- Z. Kornblit, "Di tzukunft," N.Y., June 1929.

  • Kritikum -- "Di froy vus mir gagegenen" fun z. kornblit, oyfgefirt fun zaslowsky, "Di tsayt," London, February 1930.

  • Yankev Mestel -- Di dramatishe kunst fun z. kornblit, "YIVO -- blete" Vilna, April-May 1932.

  • Mordche Danzig -- Tzvey yidn vus hobn gefirt a bittern kampf mit gott in amerike, "Der Tog," N.Y., 7 Sept. 1935.

  • Shmuel Roszhanski -- "Ihr farshpilte lebn," mit berta zaslowski, "Di yidishe tsaytung," Buenos Aires, 7 March 1939.

  • Mordche Danzig -- Likhvod shabes, "Der Tog," N.Y., 3 Dec. 1949.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- "Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-kompositors," N.Y., 1952, pp. 222-82.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2474.

Translation courtesy of Paul Azaroff.

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