Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Leo Robbins
(Eliezer Rabinovits)


Born in 1895 in Ivye, Vilna Gubernia, Polish Lithuania, into a well-to-do family, great grandson of R' Dovid ben Moshe of Novoredok, author of "Glia mskhta." He learned in a religious elementary school (cheder), in Reineses' yeshiva in Lita, also Hebrew and Russian with a private teacher. At the age of thirteen he became a by orphaned of two parents.

In 1910 he arrived in America, attended English school, also courses in Boston University, working in various trades. In 1915 he began to write in English as a contributor to weekly paper and daily newspaper in Boston, published songs, stories and articles. In 1918 he published in English, in Boston, a book of stories in English, wrote in 1920 themes for films. Since 1921 he worked for Ab. Cahan as a contributor for the "Forward," where he wrote popular articles and novels under the pseudonyms "L. Malkes" and "R. Shayevsky."

He wrote a play, "Mame," which was never staged.

O 13 January 1927, Isidor Hollander staged in Toronto, Canada, R.'s drama, "Der ferd-ganev (The Horse Thief)," which he later (on 2 November 1927) staged in Boston.

R.'s novel, "Di zibete evenyu (Seventh Avenue)," which was published in 1934 in the "Forward," was dramatized and played on 15 March 1935 in New York's "Second Avenue Theatre."

On 4 April 1936, under the direction of Michael Razumny, there

there was performed in the New York "Folks Theatre," through the "Folksbiene," R's special drama, "Province" (sets by Yudzhin Dunkel).

The play was performed three times and brought the group a material deficit. The play soon was staged in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Hillel Rogoff wrote about the play:

"With the play, 'Province,' Leo Robbins attempted to give a dramatic production about the difficult problems that now stands for the Jewish unions -- the problem of the shepherd who fled into the (provincial) towns. However, this does not mean that R. has produced a dry, strong propaganda play, Such is the case with most worker dramas. 'Province' is indeed a worker drama, but it is permeated with pure human feelings and passion and has played on a background of family conflicts and social interests. ...The drama stands out with originality. For us Robbins revealed a new source of dramatic material. The theme is new. The people were new, and the situations were new."

In November 1936 in the Lyric Theatre there was staged R.'s play, "Farn yidishn gerikht," and on 17 January 1940 in the Second Avenue Theatre there was staged R.'s play, "Zumer-lebn," which soon thereafter became played under the name, "A biterer toes (Her Great Mistake)" (a spectacle in three acts and fourteen scenes, dramatized by William Siegel, stage director Yehuda Bleich, music by Maurice Rauch).

On 1 February 1957 R. was tragically killed in an airplane crash on Riker's Island, New York, on the way to his vacation in Miami, Florida, and came to his eternal rest on the cemetery grounds of the Workmen's Circle (Mount Carmel) in Brooklyn. R.'s entire inheritance was left to Y.L. Peretz's Writer's Union.

His close colleague Jacob Reich portrays him as a man and writer.

"...He was raised an orphan by a strict and non-surrendering grandfather. With the grandfather he felt the warmness of a father, the kiss of a mother. Mentally, even more than mentally, he therefore was applied to himself. So it was noted in his early youth. So it remained until the last moment of his life. He lived in loneliness, even where he was surrounded by colleagues, friends and relatives; even when he was married. ...He was married twice, and twice he was divorced. He was a restless, unsatisfied soul, all sorts of unsuspecting suspects had been tempted by him. It gave him the idea that people do not appreciate him enough. For the smallest of them, he could fall into anger. Leo had never shared his whole life with anyone, he could not otherwise be isolated with himself. Robbins' soul continually was a puzzle for his friends and relatives. They all knew that he had a golden heart, that he meant no harm, that he tormented himself when he made people know that in an instant he would give of my heart to help my father.

...He had a sharp eye and a playfulness in expressing his observations, or by calling on current events. His writing career was not perfection. ...From childhood on he turned to writing, But as with all his other accomplishments, as in all life, that at some important point in his career somehow happened, but as with all his accomplishments, as in all his life, at some important point in his career something happened that steered the sweet drink of full air when he held it to his lips. ...All of them are (the printed English works and manuscripts) on melancholy themes, from tragedies where people do something bad themselves and come to a bitter end. Although they were written in his youth, they show significant talent. The only trouble  with them is that professional they are for a popular journal not smooth and polished enough. His most successful things in Yiddish, in my opinion, was a series of skits... 'Kadie the Yankee.' ...Under his pseudonym he wrote what was called "light" articles. They were not so light as it was set up before. ...Robbins had difficulty working on the 'light' things."

Sh.E. and Sh.E. by Yefim Yeshurin.

  • Zalmen Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. IV, p. 50.

  • Hillel Rogoff -- "Province," a drama by Leo Robbins, "Forward," N.Y., 10 April 1936.

  • William Edlin -- A geratene oyffirung fun der piese "province" in yidishn folks teater, "Der tog," N.Y., 10 April 1936.

  • B.Y. Goldstein -- Di rechte un di linke, "Fraye arbayter shtime," N.Y., 1 May 1936.

  • N.B. Linder -- "Far'n yidishn gericht" in lyric-teater, "Der tog," N.Y., 18 November 1936.

  • Hillel Rogoff -- Leo Robbin's New Play "In the Jewish Court," "Forward," N.Y., 20 November 1936.

  • Efrim Auerbach -- A "biterer toes" in sekond evenyu teater, "Morning Journal," N.Y., 9 February 1940.

  • L. Fogelman -- "Ir biterer toes," shtarke drame in sekond ev. teater, dort, 16 February 1940.

  • "Finf un tsvantsik yor folks-bine," New York, 1940, pp. 130-34.

  • Jacob Reich -- Leo Robbins: His Tragic life and Tragic Death, "Forward," N.Y., 6 February 1957.

  • Y. Shmuelewitz -- Groyser eulm bay eyndruksfuler levaye fun dem "forerts" mitarbayter leo robins, dort, 7 February 1957.







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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2232.

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