Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Israel Meir Wohlman

Born in 1821 -- according to "Dovid Rabeynu Vesofryu" -- and based upon an obituary, his birthday was on the 27th of June 1828. The newspaper "Haynt" gives the year as 1817. According to Z. Reisen his birth date was 1929/30 in Minsk, Belarus. His father was a teacher who loved simple labor, who threw away his teaching career and became a water carrier. From his childhood on he showed great talent. Till he was six years old he studied in a cheder. Then until twelve years of age he studied Bible and Gemara with his father. At seventeen he entered the yeshiva in "the old study house." After three years he began to study with Rabbi Leib Dibusin and began to hold classes in various synagogues, all the while continuing to study Talmud and commentaries on Jewish law. After that he became a follower and pioneer of the Haskalah (enlightenment). In Minsk, despite his youth, he withstood much persecution when he was accused of heresy. His accusers claimed that he demonstrate this by the way he taught Bible to his students.

W. wrote many articles in various Hebrew journals: HaMagid, HaIvri, HaKol, HaMelitz, HaTzfira, and in 1865 he issued a journal, "HaKochavim." He was one of the few maskilim (followers of Haskalah) who was involved with the common people. He always lived close to the poor masses and was very familiar with their lives. He also wrote many poems and story books in Yiddish that were printed in Vilna.

A spontaneous discussion commences as to whether W. or Ludwig Levinson was the writer of the comedy "Womanly Nest Eggs (Vaybishe kniplekh)."

Zalman Reisen wrote: In its time "Womanly Nest Eggs" appears to have made a great impression upon its readership because the comedy was reprinted time and again. This was very unusual for a play that had never been staged. The first Vilna edition came out, apparently in 1873. By 1874 there was a new printing of "The Womanly Nest Egg, a theatre play, written in five acts," presented in Vilna in 1881. he used the pseudonym, "Miyus," which in Russian means "alias." Miyus was Wohlman's pseudonym. The play was printed by Rosenkrantz print setter, and published by Roziker -- we know from official sources that five thousand copies were printed. If this publication was issued later I don't know, but it might have been. In Warsaw there was a printing of "The Excommunication of Rabbi Gershom, or, The Womanly Nest Egg," a play in Lesser Poland, Warsaw. It was printed by Reb Yosef Levinzohn and most probably it was reprinted later (in our copy of the Warsaw edition there is no year given. However the censor permit is from April 11, 1882). If Wohlman knew about this reprinting, and why he didn't do anything about this matter, we don't know.

Zalman Reisen, who published various editions of the Vilna and Warsaw publications, believes that W. is the author of "The Womanly Nest Egg," and that Levinzohn is merely the editor of the Polish edition. He bases his conclusion on the following:

1.) There is not even one edition of "The Womanly Nest Egg" where Levinzohn is attributed to be the author. On the contrary, there are several editions where it states clearly that the author is certainly Y.M. Wohlman.

2.) Acccording to the announcements of Sh. Shwerdshar in "Haynt," where details are given by Levinzohn that he, Levinzohn, wrote "The Woman Nest Egg" approximately in 1880. We possess at least two editions of this issue of this comedy.

3.) It is clear after comparing the two editions that the original text is Lithuanian.

4.) And above all that Israel Meir Wohlman was a print setter, and the moving force behind a whole sequence of works in Yiddish. While from Levinzohn we have only an uncertain pseudo-biblical book in Hebrew, and that the Yiddish version had to be undertaken by another person (who, by the way, was Wohlman).

5.) As to Wohlman being the author of "The Womanly Nest Egg," such authorities as Sh.L. Citron and A. Litwin, both of whom knew him personally, remember the impression that they had about his comedy. As to the time of Levinzohn's birthplace, we know nothing (witnessed by Shmuel Ashkenazi), and what's more we don't know anything that proves he is the author of "The Womanly Nest Egg."

Comparing the two editions, Z. Reisen says, "The Wohlman (Vilna) edition was certainly printed earlier. The orthography is closer to the modern literary style, At the same time the Levinzohn edition is written in the dialect of the Polish orthography... The difference between both texts is only in the style of its Polish Yiddish. We have to be wary that in any case these differences are improved and enlivened by Wohlman's rhymes. It is only in the final scene of the comedy that we find errors in Levinzohn's text, and in its content..."

The final conclusion is written by B. Gorin: "The name of the author is given as Y.M. Wohlman, but apparently the author of this play is Ludwig Levinzohn, who gave it to Wohlman for him to take it to press, and that W. put his own name on it."

Similarly it is noted -- according to Dr. Yaakov Shatzky -- Leo Weiner in his "History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century" (page 107), the name Levinzohn does not appear in any edition of this comedy. He claims that at the start of the 1870s he gave his work to Wohlman to publicize. W. put his initials upon it."

Dr. Yaakov Shatzky says further that there is a Warsaw anonymous edition from 1877 (Munk Organization, page 48).

A. Litwin writes in his book, "Jewish Souls" that "The Womanly Nest Egg" was the most beloved book of simple Jewish wives and girls.

In connection to the subject of "The Womanly Nest Egg," it is -- according to Z. Reisen -- mentioned in W.'s biography about which Sh.L. Citron says that he, Wohlman, should have had in the course of his life six wives.

B. Gorin writes about his comedy:

"The Womanly Nest Egg" is a comedy that elicits hearty laughter. The subject emphasizes seldom simplicity. The way it is handled is demonstrated is from its content. Everything that ensues is son natural, lively, without any pretense and without miracles. The fantasy is not dragged out by the author. By the way, the entire structure of the comedy is like fine fireworks... Its simplicity is in its naturalistic dialogue, and its closeness to real life. The comedy, "The Womanly Nest Egg," is one of the best of the current Yiddish repertoire.

Towards the end of his life W. had to battle with lectures, and when he had no more strength for teaching, he, a sick man of eighty years of age, found himself in an attic room, lacking everything. Finally he was brought to an old-age home where he was forgotten by everyone. He passed away at the end of 1927. Dovid Herman with the Stanislav "Goldfaden Union" presented the comedy, "The Womanly Nest Egg," by Ludwig Levinzohn on 14 August 1928. He had the Vilna Troupe present it in Warsaw. The comedy lasted on the stage for a very short time.

  • Z. Reisen -- "Lexicon in Yiddish Literature," Vol. 1, pp. 892-96.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, pp. 125-7; Vol. 2, p. 269.

  • Sh. Shverdsharf -- Ver iz der mekhaber fun "di vayberishe kniplekh," "Haynt," Warsaw, 10 August 1928.

  • Zalman Reisen -- "Di vayberishe kniplekh" un zayer mekhaber, "Di yidishe velt," Warsaw, Volume VI, 1928.

  • B. Karlinboym -- Theatre, "Moment," Warsaw, 17 August 1928.

  • Y.M. Neyman -- "Vayberishe kniplekh," "Haynt," 17 August 1928.

  • N. Mayzel -- "Divayberishe kniplekh" bay "Di vilner," "Literarishe bleter," 34, 1928.

  • Sh. Shverdsharf -- Ver iz aort der mekhaber fun "vayberishe kniplekh"? "Literarishe bleter," 29, 1929.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- Vegn mekhaber fun "Di vayberishe kniplekh," "Literarishe bleter," 11, 1930.

  • Dr. Yaakov Shatzky -- Retsenzies, "Archive," pp. 477-9.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 641

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