Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Hershel Zuckerberg

Born on the 12th of November 1881 in Sambor, Galicia.  His parents were merchants.  He was educated in a traditional religious school and regular school.  When he was just over fifteen years of age, he immigrated to America with his uncle. 

 Here he immediately became a worker in “knee pants” [children’s pants] and later together with Max Payne, Barondess and David Weisenfeld organized the Union from this particular work.  He became a member of S.L.P. and then over to S.D., where he became a delegate from the knee pants union and a member of the United Jewish Union.  Later he spent a few years as the manger of the Yiddish Actors' Union, afterwards two seasons managing a Jewish troupe in American theatre in Philadelphia, three seasons managing the Empire Theatre, in the Eighth Street Theatre in Chicago, in addition to seasons managing the Montreal National Theatre in Montreal., the Odeon in St. Louis and Duchess in Cleveland and Newark, traveling around with troupes through the provinces of America and Canada. He spent a year managing the McKinley-Square Theatre in the Bronx, New York.  From 1928-1929 he was the manager in St Louis and Cleveland, and in 1929–1930 together with Mitnick, managed in Montreal.

In 1929, Zuckerberg published articles in the St. Louis Jewish newspaper about Yiddish Theatre.


The last four to five years of Zuckerberg’s life were spent suffering from tuberculosis and diabetes. He found himself spending a long time in the Arbeter Ring Sanitarium for tuberculosis where he eventually died on August 10, 1936.

On his service as manager from the Yiddish Actors' Union and later the Theater Union, J.S. Prenowitz writes: Here he felt like a fish in water, when Zuckerberg became the manager from the Actors' Union, the Yiddish theatre flourished… for his humor and jokes were beloved by the Yiddish Theatre world, and in addition he was a Jew with smarts! Even actors, who are very impressionable and sensitive, would ask him if he minded to discuss or give feedback on their singing or their acting and so on…  Every season he would recruit actors and travel with them to different cities, putting on shows.  Zuckerberg was an ordinary guy. He never hung out among the intellectuals. On the contrary, he would always love to joke about the intellectuals, but often times many of them would approach him to banter because he was born with a natural humor that was often better than theirs. His jokes were hilarious often making people laugh so hard it hurt, but people would always forgive him because they knew a he wasn’t a guy that wanted to cause anyone pain. But with his humor and his particular jokes somebody would be in pain laughing. He was always joking around because he was a fountain of humor and comedy. To Joke around for him a sort of “mitzvah,” and he would gladly ‘permit’ others to do such a ‘mitzvah,’ earned at his expense. There were times when he didn’t even have shoes on his feet, but his innate humor always strengthened him. When he would need to hold a conference with someone about business opportunities, often times a confrontation would take place between the negotiating parties, suddenly in that moment Zuckerberg would tell a successful joke, lay on a bit of his charm, and the mood would quickly change.

Maurice Schwartz characterized him as follows:

Hershel Zuckerberg had started to lead the Actors' Union in a manner, that someone should lead a workers union. To be a boss one must wield a stick, according to the majority of people.  And Zuckerberg really wouldn’t go anywhere without his big stick, and his equally sized cigar that he always had in the left side of his mouth. And although Hershel would often strike his managers with his stick when he spoke to them, they liked him nonetheless. They liked him because of his humor, his witticisms and his joke-filled little stories. He had introduced this proverb which was: ‘be alright, be alright’-- this meant that everything would be fine. For example, he could say to a manager, “you don’t want that actor?”  … ‘OK, then we’re just going to give you the cold shoulder.” If an actor complained about him, that the director wants to cut part of his role, he’d answer with, “be alright, be alright, do it in rehearsal like he told you, and by night during the play read the part that he cut out.” Zuckerberg also hated it when you read too slowly on the stage, or when you read too fast. The customer in the theatre has the ultimate opinion of the play and needs to hear every word, you’re not allowed to add any prose, and an actor must annunciate loudly because there are people in the audience who are hard of hearing.

In the Actors' Club (there also was a restaurant with a special room for card players) Zuckerberg liked to primarily play cards alone in a game called Pinochle, but he got even more pleasure from making fun of the poker players. His words of wisdom while playing cards were incredibly original.

As time passed Zuckerberg started to feel less like a delegate and more like a ruler, an autocrat or a little tsar who rules with an iron fist and will give you a large grin and the wink of an eye. His actions often led to the following: where in certain cases he’d bring harm on both the managers and the union. But he had such a loveable personality, such a ‘good boy’, it appeared like all of his faults were virtues. Nobody could ever be mad at him. The Zuckerberg chapter is extraordinarily interesting; he had enough material for a play or a book.  He was a man of the people with a one of a kind humor through which he obtained from the theatre bosses larger wages for the actors. His critiques of the performances were unmatched in their originality.  Even with all of his jokes and sarcastic proverbs, Hershel Zuckerberg maintained a generous heart surpassed only by the generosity of his pocketbook. His charitable actions were shared with everyone.

M. E.

  • Nathan Fleischer -- Hershel Zuckerberg, "The Yiddish World," Philadelphia, 20 February 1931.

  • J.S. Prenowitz -- Stories About Hershel Zuckerberg, That People Told in the Yiddish Theatre World, "Forverts," N.Y., 12 August 1936.

  • Maurice Schwartz -- Maurice Schwartz Recalls, "Forverts," Los Angeles, 5, 7 November 1941.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2662.

English translation courtesy of Zachary Sher.

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