Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Israel Welichansky

Born in Brest-Litovsk, Russia-Lita, into a rabbinic family. Father -- a scholar. Mother -- maintained a candy store and a bakery. Learned with a drdki melamed, and later Gemora in Best-Litovsk, then in a Slobodka yeshiva and with R' Yitzhak Elkhanan, later again returning to Brest-Litovsk. Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish  -- in a private school, and entered into the Poalei Zion courses. Also learned Polish and general history, history of the labor movement, studied in the professional school of "Ort" and finished as a carpenter/cabinet maker.

As a child he played in a professional Yiddish theatre. He was a choir boy with a cantor.

In 1921 he traveled to Vienna, then in France, where he attended lectures about dramatic arts. In 1922 he went as a pioneer (chalutz) to Eretz Yisrael, where he worked as a carpenter with building shoseen, and was interested at the same time with studying the dramatic arts. He was a statistician with the "Vilna Troupe" in Vienna.

In 1923 he came to a brother in America, and here in the beginning he was a costume (suit/dress) peddler, worked as a painter with Spanish schools, carpenter, window washer in the subway.

In 1925 he learned and participated in the productions of the Hebrew private studio, "Habima" and "Kadima." In 1926 he joined the "Artef" studio, which he helped buy, and then became one of


the prominent actors of "Artef," where he participated both in the plays, as well as an declamator, and then toured as a soloist, and together with a small group of actors across America.

In 1938-39 he joined the Yiddish division of the federal theatre in Massachusetts as a stage director and first-role player, and here he staged "Dos groyse gevins (The Big Winner)" by Sholem Aleichem, acting in the role of "Shimele soroker," and in English Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

In the Second World War, W. served three years in the American army, and there he had in the hospital for the soldiers and for the "sisters" of the "Red Cross," he acted in English. Returning from the army, W. was taken in as a member of the Yiddish Actors Union.

 W. for two seasons was the dramatic director of the "Arbayter Ring (Workmen's Circle) Camp," and four seasons in "Camp Boyberik," and many tours with the Arbayter Ring and "Jewish Center Lectures Bureau" across America and Canada, where he directed through small-arts programs and specialized especially in declamations, recitations, monologues, with and without makeup, especially in Gordin's "Clinton Street," Peretz's "Der gilgl fun a nigun (The Formation of a Melody?)," Mendele's "Fishke der krumer," Sholem Aleichem's "Milkhiks," Mercur's "Radiotn," and his adaptation (according to the Tunkler) "Der litvishe melamed."

In 1951 W., together with Wolf Mercur, directed a tour across Colombia, Cuba and Mexico. In 1955 he again performed (together with Fraydele Lipshitz) with a small-arts evening in Mexico and other Latin-American countries, and in 1961 he alone again performed with a small-arts evening in Mexico. In 1962 W. directed such evenings, together with Celia Adler.

W. was also regisseur and directed in the span of fifteen years the "Drite sederim (Third Seder)" of the "Arbayter Ring" in New York, and also directed for large spectacles for the Jewish National Fund and other large Jewish national organizations.

W., until today, is connected with the "Jewish Center Lectures Bureau," who staged small-arts evenings in Yiddish and English across America.

In 1946 W. issued a record of his recitations. The composer Sholom Secunda writes about the record:

."..It is clear that the preparations for the record were well thought out and carefully prepared. The chorus and small chamber orchestra, which were engaged and conducted by Vladimir Heifitz, is an important part of the general replacement (oystaytshung). This is a large gain for the new record. According to the outstanding note of prominent personalities who made the record possible, it is evident that the deceased issued an honorable record, and this was successful. This is no pell-mell record. Each item is from an artistic level with a popular context. There may be disagreements about the change in some issues regarding music. Ordinarily a melody, and even a beautiful melody, is not enough. A melody must have a direct relationship with the introduction of the song. What did the poet have to say? Who sings the song, and where is the song sung? This is the same with the accompaniment.

For example, one of the numbers is 'Clinton Street.' An interesting number. The music is far from being adapted. A tenor is heard from a phonograph, who plays ostensibly Milner's 'In kheder.' The song from the phonograph is not what Cantor Hershman has recorded, or what Milner had composed, but rather like Welichansky, this would be the case, and even more, how he wanted this composed. The same is with other songs. This, according to my view, is not any honest and certainly no artistic approach. With smaller defects it can also be called "Rolling of a Melody" "Motele," and "Clip Clap." With all the inconceivable disadvantages, it must be added that the record possesses more virtues than traditions, and the virtues of transgressing the disadvantages.  Welichansky has tried something, to create and, in a large measure, the test is a success. A great compliment  comes to Welichansky for the selection of the numbers. Each number is in good taste and brings in folklore, Yiddish folklore with which every Jew should know. the Young who do not know of the folkloric tones, should become acquainted with this. The fact that every number is clearly represented in English is a virtue. I am convinced that even children, who will be familiar with the content in English and listen to our treasure trove of folk material, will in time become a successor and adherent of our unique folklore."


  • "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," New York, 1963, Volume 4, pp. 3177-78.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 6130.

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