Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Jennie Lavitz
(Shmilovic; Jenna Lovic)


Born on 7 April 1912 in Bucharest, Romania, to the Yiddish actors Sammy (Shmuel) and Saltshe Smilovic. She began to act with her parents in children's roles. Undergrown, she began to act on the Romanian stage with Alfred Tonaso, and then in Yiddish troupes with her parents.

In 1931, when Molly Picon guest-starred in Romania, she took her to act in Paris in Meyer Schwartz's "Mamele." In the beginning of 1932 Samuel Goldinburg took L. to act with him in London, and from there returned to Paris, where she married the actor Chaim Levine and traveled with her husband and child in 1934 to Bucharest, where she guest-starred and then went across the Romanian province. In 1935 she traveled with her husband to guest-star in Lemberg in her husband's play, "Dos shampanier meydl." From there they went to act in Lodz ("Philharmonia"), and then at the Yiddish Meutim Theatre in Riga, and across the Latvian province., later in Bialystok, Vilna. In 1936 they guest-starred in Warsaw's "Skala" Theatre with the play, "Shampanier meydl," which was on for two months, and L. participated in the film "Di freylekhe kaptsonim (The Jolly Paupers)." [under the name of "Jenna Lovic" -- ed.] At the end of 1936 they were engaged to guest-star for director Bukantz in Kovno, again in Riga, Vienna and again in Poland, in Lemberg's "Coliseum" Theatre with Chaim Levine's new play, "Di freylekehe rebetsin (The Jolly Rabbi's Wife?.' The success of the play was so great that you would follow in the street and scream out: "The Rabbi's wife is coming."

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, L, Levine, David Zayderman, Chana Lerner and Lola Folman fled from Warsaw and on the way found people who were traveling back in the direction of Warsaw, which they had said that the Germans are dangerous, and they were (November 1939) returning to Warsaw, and like Romanian citizens, she had a Romanian passport, the Germans allowed you to go home to Romania, and her husband remained in Warsaw, from where he later was saved to Soviet Russia. With their son, through Vienna, she arrived in Romania, and in 1944 both arrived in the land of Israel, where she performed in Yiddish and Hebrew. In 1949 she was engaged for Buenos Aires ("Mitre" Theatre, directors Willy Goldstein and Miriam Lerner), where she had the opportunity to play with the guest-starring Michal Michalesko and Maurice Schwartz. Being ripped away for ten years from her husband, all of whom were considered dead. She married the actor and singer Michal Michalovic and stayed in or out of Buenos Aires or in Brazil. When her first husband, Chaim Levine, in 1957 returned from Soviet Russia, where he was arrested for thirteen years in the local jail, she came to him in London and both in 1958 returned to Buenos Aires, where they became partners with Willy Goldstein in the "Argentine" Theatre, and she performed in "Di varshever khazante" and had a colossal success. Due to illness and that she got upset with her first husband and turned back to her second husband, and pulled her back completely off the stage.

On 28 March 1965 she, after a long illness, passed away in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

In a necrology in the Buenos Aires "Yidishe tsaytung," it was said:

"Many years have passed since Jennie Lavitz was ill with leukemia, blood cancer, which devours the red blood cells. Five years this darkened her life. Death was constantly in her presence. ...The Jews in San Paolo, Argentina, did much to help Jennie Lavitz to stay alive.

The Jewish community in Buenos Aires saw her, for the first time, in 1948 (1949), when she was in the prime of her career as a fully temperamental soprano. Here singing and dancing a Romanian Donna was able to bring her audience to its feet. At that time she was in full bloom of her beauty and her appeal. She was attractive, unlike most of the actresses on the Yiddish stage. She possessed so much charm and talent that she quickly enthralled her audience."

Y. Sh. Goldstein describes her thus:

Jennie Lavitz should have held a higher position in the Yiddish theatre. However, she didnít have the good fortune to do so. If there still remained in the Yiddish theatre another such a talented performer like Jennie Lavitz, she would have had to be very special to reach her level of competence. There was even some talk that she would come to America one day to perform. Nothing came of it.

In the last years prior to the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, the young Jennie Lavitz was extremely popular in the Yiddish theatre in Warsaw, Lodz and all over Poland.  She came to Warsaw from Bucharest with her husband, the singer and actor, Chaim Levine. Immediately, she became a beloved star. Her soprano roles, when she played them, took on  new light when she appeared on the stage with her svelte figure and her black, laughing eyes. This went on till the outbreak of World War II.

When I was, in 1946, newly arrived from the Soviet Union in Israel, I saw her perform in Tel Aviv. In fact, she was singing in Hebrew with an unsurpassed success. The famous Hebrew poet Nathan Alterman wrote Hebrew songs for her, in a light genre. Every song by Nathan Alterman was a work of art, and the interpretation by Jennie Lavitz was masterful. They were so proud of each other. Jennie Lavitz received an artistic reception thanks to Altermanís magnificence, and Alterman had the greatest satisfaction when he saw with how much charm, good taste, and mastery Jennie Lavitz sang his songs. All of Israel relished the new Hebrew soprano Jennie Lavitz. They, as it is said, carried her on their hands.

When she arrived -- she told me at then -- that she didnít know any Hebrew. But, she caught on to the language immediately. Right after she arrived in Israel she sang a Yiddish theatre song with Rumshinskyís music called "The Raisin." ÖThe song, I think, was sung in America by Molly Picon. In Israel, Jennie Lavitz sand "Raisins" driving her public wild. When I arrived, they didnít call her by her own name, rather they called her "Little Raisin."

Alas, she was not destined to have much joy.  She left Israel for South America; here she was, once again, drawn to the Yiddish theatre. The end was that she left the Hebrew stage but never had an opportunity to return to the Yiddish stage. Her long illness turned her, even as she still lived, into an object "from the past."

Without exaggeration, with Jennie Lavitzís death, a brilliant star was extinguished in the cloudy, tearful sky of the Yiddish theatre.

Sh.E. from her husband Chaim Levine.

  • Yosef Shimen Goldstein -- A yid tsu yidn, "Forward," N.Y., 16 April 1965.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5154.

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