Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Moshe Simonoff


Born in 1859 in Kamenets Podolsk, Ukraine, to a well-to-do family. He learned in a cheder and with local, prominent melamdim. At age seventeen he married, and from time to time due to his beautiful voice he prayed before Emud(ah?). A year later he became familiar with mashkil Simeon Ruder, whose daughter taught him Russian, and S. began to read Russian books and newspapers, as well as Tenach and Haskalah books . He often sang during various meetings of mashkilim, and through them bravely came to study music. He then went to Peterburg, where he was heard by the professors of the state conservatory Gabel and Samus, but due to that, his parents didn't underwrite the necessary papers, and he wasn't able to enter into the conservatory.

Not being able any longer to find himself in his home environment, he immigrated in 1886 to America, where he worked for the first time in a cigarette factory, and then as a refugee(?) worker. In 1887 he was a chorister, engaged to Moshe Zilberman in the Oriental Theatre, with the condition that he may not belong to the chorister union, and soon S. performed in concerts for the organization "Ruski robotshi soyuz", and there he became familiar with choristers, members of the chorister union, which took him in as a member.

Since then M. became one of the activist union workers in the field of the Yiddish theatre. With his entire youthful energy, he threw himself into the former conflict of the choristers for better


conditions, and for the recognition of their association, which directed a strike that after two months won. S. then became appointed to organize the choristers. As punishment for his organizational work, he was no longer engaged in the theatres as a chorister, and therefore for the 1887-88 season, he joined the troupe that was put together by the Israel brothers and Samuel Dorf (former president of the Independent Order of Brith Avraham) for the Standard Theatre in Baltimore, where he was a chorister and acted in small roles, debuting as "Rabbi" in Shomer's "Der bel-tshuvah". After acting for several months under very difficult conditions in Baltimore, the troupe moved to Philadelphia (Thalia Theatre, 4th and Kala HIll), where, due to the activity of the Yiddish quarter, business again was bad. In the middle of the season Avraham Goldfaden put together a troupe for Boston (where Boris Thomashefsky was also performing), from where M. went with several actors to Philadelphia, and when Thomashefsky left -- due to a conflict -- the troupe, S. performed in the role of "Bar Kochba", and remained from then on to act in responsible roles.

1888 -- S. organized the first Yiddish actors' union in America, to which all of the former Yiddish actors belonged (besides the owners of the theatres such as Kessler, Feinman, Mogulesko, Finkel, Chaimovich, et al). This union, together with the chorister union, writer's union and the Yiddish branch [section] of the socialistic workers party, were the four that organized, whcih had founded the United Jewish Workshops in America.

Since then, S. acted until 1920 in New York in various troupes, whre he took on prominent positions. Among his other roles, he was in 1894 the first to play the role of "Alter tsipes" in Gordin's "Di litvishe brider lurie".

Since 1920 S. acted in the American province, mainly in Philadelphia, where he also had in the local "Forward" (13, 21 November 1927) published his autobiography.

S. attempted to write plays, but without success. Therefore he had "tsugefikst" {"oysgebesert"] entire plays, including "Dos lebn in nyu-york", "Kol nidre" and "Bat khn".

A radical, S. participated in the Jewish Workers Movement in America, and had in 1907, during a crisis, helped found the socialistic folks-kukh, was a co-founder of a children's' homes, orphanages, and the moshav-zknim on Jefferson and Cherry Streets, and he often used to perform in the rallies for the Yiddish Actors Union, distributing the union viewpoints.

On 31 August 1930 S. passed away in New York.

S.'s daughter, Betty, acts on the Yiddish stage.

Sh. E.

  • B. Kalich -- [Memoirs] "Der tog", N. Y., 5 September 1925.

  • Album fun filaelpfier idishe shoyshpiler, "Forward", Philadephia, 13, 20 November 1927.

  • D. K. [Kaplan] -- Der farshtarbener aktyor m. simonov -- a varime harts un energishe natur, "Forward", N. Y., 2 September 1930.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1489.

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