Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Boris Markovich Shtsherbakov
(Ben Meir)

"Boris (I'm not certain of his first name) Shtsherbakov was involved with a traveling troupe and played Yiddish theatre in Bessarabia and a few cities in Minsk Gubernia. The troupe consisted of twenty actors, among them was Jacob Weislitz. The repertoire consisted of Abraham Goldfaden's and from Max Gabel's plays, however the best of the repertoire was 'Mirele efros.'

In the troupe were his wife and a daughter, whom always played the main roles. Each time his wife Shtsherbakov played 'Mirele Efros' he came onto the stage and gave a speech about his wife and her role. This is what he said, 'My wife has a great talent. She is the one and only who has the right to play the role of Mirele Efros. My wife is a fantastic actress, but Ester Rokhl Kaminski has better luck...'

Shtsherbakov, who was more inebriated than sober, was the director, actor, playwright, producer and choir master... The troupe played in public markets, however when he had to pay his hungry actors he was broke. The troupe was literally starving. Whenever they came to him for a few rubles he was abusive and poured cold water on them. He yelled at the actors and said to them: 'You can't threaten me with a strike. I, my wife and my daughter, can perform Yiddish theatre on our own without you.'

Zygmunt Turkow characterizes him this way:

"Other veterans, including myself, used to spend his time keeping company with an original 'type,' one of the most familiar provincial directors of the Yiddish stage in Russia, Shtsherbakov. About this very same, we used to tell one another jokes and curiosities about Shtsherbakov. This made him even more popular than his devotion to the Yiddish theatre itself. For us it was relaxing to spend time together in his company, especially because he was an impressive story teller and improviser. He used to amuse the listeners with his carryings on, the pranks he used to fling at his audience. At the same time he used to drink one glassful of whiskey after another, and it showed that this thin, weak, little person could take on the entire entourage of his profession and not become drunk. True, the tongue he used would get stuck on a word, but he used to overcome the dryness in his throat and wet it with a fresh glassful of whiskey..."

He used to blame the audience or 'the highbrow public,' as he used to call them for his tearful destiny and his pitifully sleepy life. When I read Sholem Aleichem's 'Wandering Stars,' I imagined that no one other than Shtsherbakov could have served him as a role model for his character. His whole role as a martyr for the Yiddish acting world could be observed on his face and all of his sorrow came out in his speech. He claimed that he gave the 'best of his years' to his audience. He gave his tears and his most precious gift that he received in his life, his only daughter to the audience. And what thank did he get in return? He deserves to be given a standing ovation by the young up-and-coming actors.

--May they never come to their fifth year?

Wishing someone a 'fifth year' refers to the pogroms that were so prevalent at that time, was his most beloved curse. We heard earlier that his daughter , when he staged a benefit in her honor that was poorly attended, brought him to such a state that after one performance he appeared and said to the gathered group using this familiar curse: 'Therefore, dear audience, since you never appeared at my daughter's benefit and you ruined, alas her special day, you should receive a "fifth year"! I wish you all a good night.'

Even now often used the same curse. When he was made aware that his curse was already overused because Petliura (who was the President of the short-lived Ukrainian independence 1918-1921) had actualized it through his life, Shtsherbakov closed his eyes and quietly shook his head back and forth, and like a child he cried, ' are correct! May you indeed see your fifth year. L'Chaim Jewish children!...'

S. passed away on 17 March 1933 in Kherson, by his daughter, the actress Katya Stsherbakov, wife of the actor Reyzelman.

Sh.E. from Mark Leyptsiger and Moshe Shulvays.

  • Julius Adler -- "Meyses fun der yidisher teater-velt," "Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 28 Sept. 1949.

  • Zygmunt Turkow -- "Teater zikhrones fun a shturmishe tsayt," Buenos Aires, 1956, pp. 204-205.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5017.

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