Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Yiddish Theatre in Eretz Yisrael

The actor Jacob Silbert who acted around 1887 with a Yiddish troupe in Cairo wrote that he attempted to organize a Yiddish play in Jaffa and Jerusalem, but he was warned from all sides that he would not receive permission to play in Yiddish. He had to be satisfied only to stage a Yiddish concert in Jerusalem.

In 1891 Harry Krohn, who arrived in Jaffa from Odessa, managed successfully to stage the Play "Shulamis" by Goldfaden. The first Yiddish theatrical presentation in Eretz Yisrael occurred in one of the first newly built houses in the Jaffa suburb that would later become Tel Aviv. This attempt met with so many stumbling blocks and difficulties, that it never reoccurred.

Zalmen Zylbercweig wrote about this event: "The Hebraists in Eretz Yisrael had its own point of view, which was not very knowledgeable. The root cause of it was that the 'Lovers of Zion' movement like faithful policemen, were incited by the thought that 'jargon' (as Yiddish was called at that time) should not sneak into 'Eretz Yisrael.' They, who should have been the potential audience for the Yiddish theatre, drew upon their recall of Russian government restrictions and did not allow Yiddish theatre to exist there."

Dr. Harari, one of the founders of Hebrew theatre in "Eretz Yisrael," told us that after approximately 1888 we could stage "Shulamisí in Jerusalem, and in 1899 in the colony of Rishon LeZion they performed Goldfadenís "Dr. Yozelman."  They also performed it in one of the smaller colonies, Rehovot. M. Genessin, one of the founders of the Hebrew Theatre in Eretz Yisrael, tells in his memoirs about the founding of Hebrew theatre in Eretz Yisrael. He said that after the 1905 Revolution in Russia, many of the revolutionaries were guided by their revolutionary principles. Every Wednesday shiploads of immigrants arrived in Eretz Yisrael. They also brought with them their political discussions, and they didnít forget to also bring their ideas of a language war. ... Meanwhile, and at the same time "Di troupe" (which had just been founded) strengthened itself, and through the devotion of its members, became bigger. A new idea arose: We must play in Yiddish. But soon after, the fanatics from Russia found out about the newly formed Yiddish drama society.  Dr. Metman-Kahan came from Russia, bringing with him the "crazy" thoughts to create a Hebrew High School in Jaffa. He was looked upon like many other crazies who found themselves in the "landí and had big plans. Many people poked fun at them. A language war broke out (Hebrew or Yiddish) between these two groups.

According to Sh. Ernst a group of Jewish artists who came to visit Eretz Yisrael and remained there without any means to earn money in order to leave, organized in  the summer of 1909 in  the hotel "Bella Vista" in Jaffa two Yiddish plays: Goldfadenís "Shulamis" and Chirikovís "Di yidn (The Jews)." The hall was packed, but the Rabbis and other religious leaders from Jerusalem and Jaffa let it be known that they absolutely forbid anyone to attend these performances. It reached them that any future presentations would be destroyed.

According to A. Koskovyetzkyís article in the Hebrew press, "The Laborers in Jaffa on the Nineteenth of Shevat, in 1910 presented Goldfadenís "Ahasuerus (Akhashveyresh)." At the end of 1910 they presented the operetta "Bustanai" in Jaffa,  in which  there appeared Chana Goldwig ("Dora"), Vaisborshtís  "Letz (Clown)" and M. Altzmanís "Bustanai." During Passover in 1910 in the hall of Shaybergís hotel in Jaffa, they performed Jacob Gordinís "Yiddish kenig lier (The Jewish King Lear)," with Mr. Specktaroff as "Dovid Moisheles (David the son of Moshe)," Vaisborsht as "Shammai,"and Chana Goldwigís as "Tabelle" (archived in the history of Yiddish Theatre and Drama).

After a much longer break during the summer months of 1914, they presented through Nachman Zilber at the Arabian Theatre hall in Jaffa, Lernerís reworking of Skripís "Zhidovka (Jewess)."

In March of 1919 there was presented through the writerís legion, Hirsch Leyb Gordinís one-act play, "Dos eybike licht (The Eternal Light)," in the amphitheatre of the Jewish Legion near the Lod train station.

With the settlement of the "so-called fourth Aliya" (1923-1926) in 1924, the Haifa branch of the Left Wing Poalei Tzion founded  a dramatic circle, "Unzer Vinkl (Our Corner)," which took on the responsibility to keep the Yiddish word alive. The circle began its activities with recitals and monologues in Yiddish given in private homes and for select groups. Their actual theatrical undertakings began first of all with the arrival of Shimony (Leibel Rabinowitz) from Kovno: On the terrace of a house they founded the Yiddish stage. In February 1925 they presented one of Anskiís one-act plays. But, at the second performance, members of the group "The Battalion in Defense of the Language" arrived to disrupt the play. A real pogrom was set in motion. This was the fiftieth anniversary  of the Yiddish theatre.

Not looking at all of the obstacles, the drama circle staged six plays: Sholem Aleichemís "Dos groyse gevins (The Big Prize)," and three others: "Ganovim (Thieves)" by Bimko, "Foter un zun (Father and Son), " Konsperative dira (The Conspiratorís Apartment)," and "Der zeyde (The Grandfather)" by Anski, and "Dos eybike lid (The Eternal Song)" by Arnshteyn. Less frequently  they presented: "Shver tzu zayn a yid (Itís Hard to be a Jew) by Sholem Aleichem, "Dem shmidís tekhter (The Blacksmith's Daughters)" by Hirshbein, "Shvester un brider (Sisters and Brothers),"  "Agentn (Agents)," "Mazl tov (Good Luck)," "Der get (The Divorce)" by Sholem Aleichem, "Síbrent (Its Burning)," "Nokh der kvureh, (After the Burial)" by Peretz, and "Mit'n shtrom (With the Current)" by Sholem Asch. There were also performances of Peretzís "Dos kranke yingel (The Sick Boy)," and fragments of Hirshbeinís "Puste kretshme (The Idle Inn)," plus several rhyming literary events.

The members of "Unzer vinkl (Our Corner)" were: Mordechai  Puttershnit (Lodz -- now in Montreal), Bronya Zelikovitch (Lenshitz), Yehoshua Sher (Besarabia), Nota Ash (Vilna), Yehudis (Lithuania), Yehudis Volkavitch (Kalish), Mendl Tzvillinger (Brod), Posniak (Grodno), Shmuel Lemmer (Tarograd), Kayla Efter, Yosi Erlich (Warsaw), Henigman, Avraham Volkovitch (Kalish), Layzer Greenberg, Haya Shrayer,  Kestenbaun (Poland), Sonya Shochet (Berditchev), Yeshayahu Zilberberg (Russia), The leader of the dramatic circle was the director Shimony (Kovno) and Aryeh Binstein (set design).

The government finally locked out the club and forbid all the activities of this dramatic circle.

In 1925 in Tel Aviv they founded another group also called "Unzer vinkl." This was a dramatic group that began its activities through readings in Yiddish. The first reading someone from the Poalei Tzionís Zionist club presented Sholem Aleichemís "Mazl Tov (Good Luck)."  Future presentations of Bimkoís "Di ganovim (The Thieves)" led to a terrible scandal in Haifa. Despite this the group presented Reisen-Peretz-Sholem Aleichem and Yehoash evenings. But the police forbid them to play in a barrack, based upon building codes and that was the end of the "Drama Circle."

The members of the Drama Circle were: Itkin (Warsaw), Moritz (Grudek), Fisher (Galicia), Shmuel Meller (Warsaw) and Reshelbak (Zshichlin).      

In 1930 in Tel Aviv there was a demonstration at the showing of the film "Di yiddishe mama (The Jewish Mother)." "The battalion of defenders of the language" using terroristic means, blocked the theatre so that the film had to be taken down.

Sh.E. from L. Krohn.

  • Asher Hagilili -- Theater un moving piktshurs in eretz yisroel, "Forward," N.Y., 25 March 1921.

  • L. Krohn -- Di pionern fun a yidish teater in palestine, "Di arbeter tsaytung," Warsaw, 14, 1927.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- "Hintern forhang," Vilna, 1928, pp. 140-156.

  • Jacob Silbert -- Yidish teater in yerushalayim (published in "Teter Zikhrones," Editor Z. Zylbercweig, Vilna, 1928, pp. 32-38.

  • M. Shapiro -- Yente redt un shilt oyf hebreish, "Forward," N.Y., 24 Feb. 1928.

  • M. Ngesin (memoirs) -- "Kol nue," Tel Aviv, N' 11, 13, 1932.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 942.

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