Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Leon Kusman


Born on 1 December 1884 in the village of Aleksanderhof, by Mitroy, Courland, where his parents had lived part-time. His father, a grain merchant, was a great grandson of R' Avraham, the Vilna Gaon's brother. As a child of three, he went with his parents over to Zager, where he learned in a cheder, then went over to the town Krup, where he was raised by an uncle. There he learned in a cheder and then completed a Russian folks shul, At the age of fourteen he again traveled over to Zager, where he became the leader of the first open library, and there he had the opportunity to read literature in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German and Latin. Thereof he began to write songs.

'In 1901 he traveled with his family to Odessa, where he was an extern. In 1905 he studied philosophy in Bern, and in 1907 he went over to the University of Geneva. In 1904 he debuted in "Di yidishe tsukunft" with a song, in 1908 with "Shtrikn un bilder" in Reisen's "Kunst un lebn," published various translations, as well as a Hebrew story, "The Abandoned House."

In 1911 he wandered off to London, where he began his professional journalistic activity as a collaborator in the local newspapers, "Der yidisher ekspres," "Der yidisher zhurnal," editing a humorous page, "Der blofer," and giving often recitations about Yiddish theatre, also composed his first play, "Der veg tsu frayhayt," a four-act drama, which reflects this "sturm un drang

period of 1905" in Odessa. On 6 February 1913 the play was performed in the "Pavilion" Theatre in London through Morris Moskowitz (with his participation and with the participation of Samuel Goldinburg, the Waxmans, and the Brins), and had a great success. The play also was later played with great success in Paris, Switzerland and Argentina. The same play on 24 June 1915 was staged under the stage direction of Sam Shneyer in New York. In 1913 K. immigrated to America, where he became for the first time a Hebrew teacher in New Brunswick. On 24 July 1914 under the stage direction of Sam Shneyer there was performed on "Kessler's Roof Garden," K.'s play (called "Berta" by the author), "Der leykhtzinger mentsh, oder, Libe un flikht." In the summer of 1914 he write under the pseudonym, "Ruah uinu nrah"  -- "Bilder fun gas" in the "Yiddishes tageblat." In 1915 he edited an illustrated journal, "Di vokh," collaborated in "Di varhayt," where besides theatre articles, feuilletons, publicity articles. He also had under the pseudonym, Leon Berzan, published around one hundred and fifty stories and skits. In 1918-20 he was editor for "Dos yidishe folk," and since then inner collaborator for the "Morgn zhurnal" (until it stopped publishing as an independent newspaper), where he contributed as a publicist, storyteller and theatre critic, editing for several years, and under the pseudonym L. Israeli, the special theatre page. At the same time, K. also contributed in an entire series of Yiddish and Hebrew periodical editions. Some of his stories were also translated in Yiddish-English journals.

In 1922 in the "Atlantis" Publishing House in New York, there was published K.'s one-act comedy, "Baym preser," which also was performed through the "Fraye yidishe folksbine" in New York, under the stage direction of Jacob Fishman.

In 1926 in New York there was published K.'s three-act drama, "Der geler moyer," which portrayed the degeneration of the traditional, affluent Jewish environment, and the arrival of klasnkamf (class struggle?) in a Litvak town in the epoch of the Revolution. The drama was very warmly taken in by the critics.

In 1931 in New York's "Atlantis" Publishing House there was published K.'s fantasy trilogy, "Narnbund."

K. also wrote the play, "Di bank," a social play of Jewish Life in America, and "Di teg fun moshiakh," who handled the situation of the Jews in the war, and the passions of salvation from the right and left, "A nakht on a levone," a drama in three acts (plot in America and Israel), and "Shtayndlekh oyf an indzel," a drama in two acts, six scenes, of American life.

In 1948 in New York, there was published K.'s book of sonnets, "Ezra," which treated "Vegn eynem un a dor."

In 1955, during his residence in Tel Aviv, he published there his book, "Amnim ubunim" (translated into Hebrew by Shimen Meltzer), in which he went into the theatre department, several essays about Jacob P. Adler, David Kessler, B. Gorin, and also a great historical overview and by rating Yiddish theatre in America by Goldfaden to Peretz Hirshbein.

K.'s published plays:

(1) Baym preser
comedy in one act
by Leon Kusman
publisher "Atlantis," New York, (31 pp., 32o)

(2) L. Kusman
Der geler moyer
drama in three acts with a prologue and epilogue
1926 (New York, 128 pp., 16o)

(3) L. Kusman
Dos gezang fun der erd
(in nine scenes)Vilna--1930 (127 pp., 16o)

(4) L. Kusman
Fantastical trilogy
1931 (224 pp., 16o)
"Atlantis" Publishing house, New York.


  • Zalmen Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. III, pp. 608-11.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 2, p. 273.

  • B.H. -- A nayer yidisher dramaturg, "Theater un moving pikturs," N.Y., 28 Nov. 1913.

  • T. (Z. Tigel) -- L. kusman's naye drama "der geler toyer," "Der farband," N.Y., 1 March 1925, p. 16.

  • A. Bukshtayn -- L. kusman's drama "der geler toyer," "Fraye arbayter shtime," N.Y., 17 March 1926.

  • Z. Weinper -- Naye bikher in zhurnaln, "Der oyfkum," N.Y., June 1927.

  • Y. Yungman (Jacob Glatstein) -- "Dos gezang fun der erd," "Morning Journal," N.Y., 1 November 1929.

  • A.H. Bialin -- Noarn-bund, "Fraye arbayter shtime," N.Y., 24 July 1931.

  • Sh. Erdberg -- Tsvey naye verk oyf yidish, "Tog," N.Y., 28 November 1931.

  • Yankev Botoshansky -- L. kusman, "Di prese," Buenos Aires, 28 February; 14, 21 March 1934.

  • "Finf un tsvantsik yor folks-bine," New York, 1940, 148 pp.

  • Dr. A.A. Roback, "The Story of Yddish Literature," Boston, 1940, pp. 311, 312.

  • The Universal Jewish Federation, N.Y., Vol. p, p. 49)

  • Morris Myer -- "Yidish teater in london," London, 1942, 241 p.

  • Jacob Mestel -- "70 yor teater-repertaur," New York, 1954, pp. 39-40.

  • Y. Eisenberg -- "Amnim ubunim," "Hbukri," Tel Aviv, 3 February 1956.

  • Der lebediker -- Oyfn literarishen yorid, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 26 February 1956.

  • "El ghrut," Jerusalem, 1956, Leon Kusman, 438 p.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 3117.

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