Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Rubin Youkelson


Born on 3 June 1885 in the village of Gebirivke, near Zhitomir, Volin, to impoverished parents. His father used to  He learned in a cheder, where he used to travel outside of town to markets as an assistant to the dry goods merchants. He studied in a cheder (Yiddish elementary school) where he quickly mastered the classes in which he was taught the commentaries of Rashi on the Five books of Moses. In time at the age of nine-and-one-half years he went on to study Gemara. Still later his studies where taken over by his grandfather who became his teacher according to the laws of the Torah and of the religion.

At the age of fifteen, after his mother's passing, he went over to Zhitomir, where he became an employee in a wholesale grocery store. A year later he went away to work as a trustee in a steam mill in the village of Gebirivke, where he remained for six years. Through this time he learned on his own Hebrew and Russian and began to read Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish literature.

In 1906 Y. came to America with the dream of studying to become a doctor, but instead he joined a cigar factory in Chicago, where he shortly thereafter began organizing the cigar makers For six years he was the secretary of the "Progressive Cigar Makers of America" union, then chairman of the "United Jewish Workshops" in Chicago.

In 1908 he began his journalistic activity, early on with articles about trade unions (professional questions in “Yidisher kemfer,” then in the “Yidishe arbeter velt” (Chicago), where he also debuted with a long review about the offering of Hirshbein’s “The Carcass,” through a local dramatic group.

In 1925 he settled in New York, where he edited (in Yiddish and English) for the organ of the left fur (furriers) workers' union. In the beginning of 1926 he joined as a constant contributor to the "Frayhayt" (later "Morgn frayhayt"), where he remained until the present day. Here he writes mostly political and societal articles, was for a certain time a news editor, and since the co-founding of "Artef," where he was elected as secretary of the executive committee. He also often wrote articles in "Morgn frayhayt" about theatre problems, mostly about the Yiddish theatre, later also about American theatre and film. After the death of the newspaper, the official theatre critic N. Buchwald took Youkelson's place.

At the same time Y. edited "The Tribune" which used t be published in the "Morgn frayhayt," a page two days a week, with the activity of ardn/ordn. Laer Y. also edited the ordn-khodesh journal, "Unzer vort."

Y. also was a member of the "Proletpen" since its founding, was active in "Ikor," "Ikuf," and was an editorial member of the journal "Signal."

Between 1937 and 1953 Y. was associated with the Jewish Fraternal People’s Order, where he had for the first five years functioned as the cultural director throughout the ordn-tsveygn in New York. Y from 1943 was the manager of the people’s order’s issue, lecturer and editor of the book collection, and had created a Yiddish theatre studio et al.

Y. also had supervised throughout the Yiddish Song Association at the Order in New York, and since 1946, the chairman of the “Yiddish Music Union,” in which there was angeshlosn around two decades Yiddish People’s Home in mandolin orchestras in the United States of America and Canada.

Y. published in recent times in a fictional form, his life history in “Zamlungen.”

In June 1955, for his seventieth birthday, there was issued in New York in his honor a jubilee journal with articles by P. Novick, Y.A. Rantsh, the author, Kalman Marmor, Sam Pevzner, and a series of greetings in Yiddish and English.

Ber Green writes:

“R. Youkelson, a person with a good memory, with a sense of history and historical periods, also a superb memoirist. ... the chapters, written with a juicy, popular, iconic Yiddish, with a sense of needed details, throws a bright light on the formerly historical Jewish life. They have both a cultural-historic, as a literary significance. ..a significant place in Youkelson's production as a writer, making his much informative articles about the condition, nature and problems of the Yiddish theatre; his papers, assessments and reviews about special drama offerings on the Yiddish and non-Yiddish stage; his calls and reviews about new films, generally his cultural problems nearest to his eyes. Youkelson also is the author of tens of articles and evaluations of new books. In all of the articles he showed the serious types, respect for cultural matters, willing to encourage young talent, a desire to immerse himself in the content, substance and ideas of treated works."


  • R. Youkelson -- In gerangl far'n lebn, "Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 15 Dec. 1964.

  • Ber Green -- Reuben yukelson -- a yugntlekher akhtsiker, "Morgn frayhayt," N.Y., 20 Oct. 1965.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5192.

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