Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Dovid Shenkman (?)

He was the older brother of Zanvl Shenkman. There exists no further biographical data about him. Nowhere is he mentioned, except by the Thomashefskys. Bessie Thomashefsky writes in her memoirs that [Boris] Thomashefsky brought him and his brother Zanvl to Boston in 1888. One of the two "sang," and the other one "acted." Boris Thomashefsky was even unsure if he was called Dovid.

Thomashefsky characterized him in this way: "...Dovid was one of the best, natural actors that we had at that time. The older Shenkman started his career as a Yiddish artist in Warsaw. Later on he arrived with Grodner in London, and those two artists, Shenkman and Grodner, competed with each other, who could surpass the other--one with the makeup in creating certain characgers, and who of the two played his role in a more natural way and more human. ...I saw the older Shenkman for the first time played in New York, in the Roumanian Opera House, on the Bowery, and I cannot forget the impact he made on me to this day. I had seen a great, great artist who stood out from the rest of the actors, like a sparkling diamond. At this time the actors from the Roumanian Opera House consisted of the greatest and best Yiddish artists: Finkel, Mogulesco, Feinman, Kessler, Weinblatt, Max Abramowitz, Feivele Friedman, Keni Lipzin, Sophie Karp, Dubinsky, Shoengold and his wife, Professor Hurwitz and Shenkman.

Between those I have enumerated here, Shenkman was the most natural actor. He understood how to create characters, how to stick together perforated humans from words.... Right there, between all those wooden characters [in the historical plays] someone gallivanted, who had the flesh and blood of a living human. Not history, not the historical heroes, and not the daytshmerish Yiddish could sing about the artist Shenkman. Shenkman proved to be the genius artist, even in the most foolish, clumsy role that he played.

His makeup, his bearing, the modulation of his voice, his sufferings, his joys were all human and natural. I will never forget in my whole life the changes of expression on Shenkman's face. I became close friends with Shenkman, and we started a quiet fight against historical operas. With Latayner we negotiated and persuaded him and brought him, Yosef Latayner, the most successful dramaticist of that time, the successor to Goldfaden, to begin to write dramas and comedies about life. Latayner started writing, "Koved Aba [Honorable Father?]," and Shenkman performed with Finkel in the role of "Khazn." Shenkman ibergetrofn Finkel. Shenkman's "Khazn," Shenkman's "Shloyemele Midlin," Shenkman's role in the "Mother's Love," where he was able to nail down every artistic living character and bring it to life, but the general public did not understand Shenkman, did not appreciate his artistic soul, and he suffered a lot because of that."

Thomashefsky further recalls that S. threatened to leave the theatre, and for a certain time he did really did, from New York. After that he opened a coffeehouse under his own name, where the actors used to visit. He made shiny deals, became rich and started to plan after that to open his own theatre, but this came to naught. It is not known what happened to him.

  • Bessie Thomashefsky-- "Mayn lebens geshikhte," New York, 1916, p. 63.

  • Boris Thomashefsky-- "Di brider Shenkman, vos hoben gehat erfolg als yidishe aktorn un farlozn di bine, "Forward," New York, 10 November 1923.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2580.

Translation courtesy of Sylvia Hoffman.

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