Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Sheftel Zak

Z. was born on 27 December, 1908 in Grodno, Polish Lithuania. His parents were merchants. He studied at a Hebrew school, then three years at the Grodno Yeshiva. He was also a choir boy with the cantor and a chorus member in a Yiddish theatre. 

In 1923, Z. joined a Yiddish troupe and simultaneously sang in a chorus and also worked as a prompter. He acted, wrote music, rewrote plays and since he had technical inclinations towards stage building, he began to learn drawing.   

In 1924, Z. joined the Kadish-Khash troupe with whom he acted as a technical director until 1928 when he began his service in the Polish army.

When he returned, he and Yehuda Grinhoyz set up a troupe in Bialystok. Zak continually changed troupes based on the  conditions in Poland….He linked up with the troupes of Zygmunt Turkow, Jonas Turkow and Diana Blumenfeld. He also played with with Dina Halpern and Itzhak Grudberg and other young actors who were attracted to the better Yiddish theatre repertoire.

Before the outbreak of World War II, Zak succeeded in performing with the late actor Chaim Sandler, in the role of Adolf Hitler in “A Crazy World”.


During the Nazi invasion, Zak participated in the defense of Warsaw, fled from there to Bialystok where he joined the local Yiddish state theatre traveling deep into Russia. He had a very difficult time [”suffered seven sections of hell”], wandering in cold and hot places (he later wrote about these experiences in “People and Land” and other periodical publications), then joined a Yiddish troupe that Ida Kaminska had organized in France.

Being a Polish citizen, he returned to Poland at the end of the war and lead a Yiddish state theatre in Lower Silesia with Itzhak Grudberg and Jacob Korleander. Seeing no purpose in his work there, he traveled to Paris where he managed [the local “Icut”[?] for a while and managed Hirshbein’s “Green Fields” and Sholem Aleichem’s “It’s Hard to Be a Jew”.  From Paris he went  to America and settled there. There he received the opportunity to act with the troupes of Schwartz, Jacob  Ben-Ami and Jonas Turkow. Zak, with Max Bozyk and R. Shoshana managed the cooperative troupe at New York’s Educational Alliance.

For a while, Zak worked at administrative jobs at YIVO in New York, and at the same time he used to manage YIVO’s radio programs and published articles about theatre in Yiddish periodicals.

Zak was the Executive Secretary of the Folksbiene in New York and also performed in their plays.

Zak translated the following Israeli plays: A. Megged’s “I Like Mike”, Nathan Shacham’s “They Will Come Tomorrow”, “A Boat on the Seashore” and ” Hannah Senesh” with the cooperation of  David Bass. Shifra Lehrer played the role of Senesh in Argentina.

Zak also wrote “Yiddish Theatre in Towns and Villages” and “Yiddish Theatre in Europe,” published by the all world Jewish Congress[?], New York, 1968.

Zak’s brother, Matityahu, was the stage manager of the Cameri Theatre in Israel.

Sh. E. and Sh. E. from Max Bozyk.

  • “Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre”, New York, 1931, p.757.

  • [--] Famous actor Sheftel Zak and his wife visit Israel, “Letze Nayes”, Tel Aviv, 15 July 1968.

  •  In cooperation with David Bass.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5766.
Also see a second biography written about Sheftel Zak in Volume 1, page 757.

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