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Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage

Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business

Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business Edited by Joel Berkowitz and Barbara Henry

Publication Year: 2012

While Yiddish theater is best known as popular entertainment, it has been shaped by its creators’ responses to changing social and political conditions. Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage: Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business showcases the diversity of modern Yiddish theater by focusing on the relentless and far-ranging capacity of its performers, producers, critics, and audiences for self-invention. Editors Joel Berkowitz and Barbara Henry have assembled essays from leading scholars that trace the roots of modern Yiddish drama and performance in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe and span a century and a half and three continents, beyond the heyday of a Yiddish stage that was nearly eradicated by the Holocaust, to its post-war life in Western Europe and Israel. Each chapter takes its own distinct approach to its subject and is accompanied by an appendix consisting of primary material, much of it available in English translation for the first time, to enrich readers’ appreciation of the issues explored and also to serve as supplementary classroom texts. Chapters explore Yiddish theater across geography—from Poland and Russia to France, the United States, Argentina, and Israel and Palestine. Readers will spend time with notable individuals and troupes; meet creators, critics, and audiences; sample different dramatic genres; and learn about issues that preoccupied both artists and audiences. The final section presents an extensive bibliography of book-length works and scholarly articles on Yiddish drama and theater, the most comprehensive resource of its kind available. Collectively these essays illuminate the modern Yiddish stage as a phenomenon that was constantly reinventing itself and simultaneously examining and questioning that very process. Scholars of Jewish performance and those interested in theater history will appreciate this wide-ranging volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. ix-x

For the romanization of Yiddish words and names, we have adopted, with some modifications (described below), the transliteration system established by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. That system phonetically reproduces the pronunciation of words in “standard” Yiddish, with the following ...

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pp. 1-24

The book of Genesis opens with two creation stories. Not to be outdone, the annals of the Yiddish stage add several more. They tend to be variations on a theme, but anyone trying to find out how the modern Yiddish stage developed is likely to come across an account that reads something like this: ...

Part I. Origins, Influences, and Evolution

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1. Between Two Worlds: Antitheatricality and the Beginnings of Modern Yiddish Theatre

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pp. 27-39

The early history of the Yiddish theatre offers a tantalizing instance of a marked shift from one form of theatrical culture to another. If by the nineteenth century’s end a full-fledged secular Yiddish theatrical culture revolving around professional performance had been firmly established in eastern Europe, ...

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2. The Salon and the Tavern: Yiddish Folk Poetry of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 40-63

This chapter is a historical treatment of Yiddish poems, sketches, skits, and songs that in their day were referred to as “folk poetry,” a cultural composite of a phenomenon that peaked in popularity among eastern European Jewish audiences in the second half of the nineteenth century. “Folk poetry” ...

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3. Jacob Gordin in Russia: Fact and Fiction

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pp. 64-84

A man stands aboard a ship bound for New York and gazes at the wintry, gray Atlantic. Sea winds whip the blackening clouds, waves crash against the hull of the old steamer and flood its decks with sheets of icy water. But the man grips the railings, eyes fixed on the horizon. The persecution he has suffered, the silencing he has endured, ...

Part II. Toward a Jewish Stage

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4. Translations of Karl Gutzkow’s Uriel Acosta as Iconic Moments in Yiddish Theatre

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pp. 87-115

“Were the author of Uriel Acosta to rise up from the grave and look about and see what an Acosta the great Rafalesco had created on stage . . . he [the play’s author, Karl Gutzkow] would have given his fullest assent.”2 Thus does Sholem Aleichem humorously imitate the pompous style of contemporary Yiddish theatre critics ...

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5. “Cosmopolitan” or “Purely Jewish?”: Zygmunt Turkow and the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theatre

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pp. 116-135

What is a “true” Jewish theatre? Is it one that treats Jewish experience and culture as unique, independent entities? Or is the Jewish theatre part of a larger, universal culture, no less concerned with eternal human verities than the art of any other nation? The eternal question of Jewish particularity and universality was posed ...

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6. From Boston to Mississippi on the Warsaw Yiddish Stage

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pp. 136-158

By the mid-1930s, Poland’s Jewish community was already in decline; anti-Semitic riots had encompassed universities in Cracow, the National Democratic Party was gaining support for numerus clausus on Jewish admission to universities, and many Jews were suffering disproportionately from the economic crisis. ...

Part III. Authors, Actors, and Audiences

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7. Patriotn and Their Stars: Male Youth Culture in the Galleries of the New York Yiddish Theatre

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pp. 161-183

“The gallery is dead, and the new second balcony is as similar to the former gallery as prohibition beer is to that frothy beer of the good old times.” With these words, a Forverts reporter summed up his experiences at a Yiddish performance in New York in 1927. Instead of a gallery full of boisterous patriotn, there was a “second balcony” ...

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8. Liquor and Leisure: The Business of Yiddish Vaudeville

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pp. 184-201

Throughout the late nineteenth century, a visit to one of the Yiddish theatres on the Bowery was the most popular form of commercial entertainment for New York’s eastern European Jews. In the early 1900s, however, their entertainment preferences and practices changed dramatically. New forms of public recreation developed ...

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9. “Gvald, Yidn, Buena Gente”: Jevel Katz, Yiddish Bard of the Río de la Plata

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pp. 202-222

During a visit to Buenos Aires in May 1996, I was among those present in the “live studio audience” for the 100th broadcast of the weekly Yiddish program on the Jewish community station Radio Jai. José Judkovski, the host of another of the station’s regular programs, “Buenos Aires: Fervor y Tango,” put in a guest appearance ...

Part IV. Recoveries and Reconstructions

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10. Reconstructing a Yiddish Theatre Score: Giacomo Minkowski and His Music to Alexander; or, the Crown Prince of Jerusalem

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pp. 225-250

Aleksander, oder der kroynprints fun yerusholayim (Alexander; or, the crown prince of Jerusalem), an operetta with libretto by Joseph Lateiner (1853–1935), decisively launched the career of Boris Thomashefsky (1866–1939) as a star and matinee idol on New York City’s Lower East Side.1 It opened on Friday, December 23, 1892, ...

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11. Sex and Scandal in the Encyclopedia of the Yiddish Theatre

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pp. 251-274

The Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Encyclopedia of the Yiddish theatre) is the single most important reference work in its fi eld. To date, no other work in any language comes close to providing its comprehensiveness of coverage or leads for further research on Yiddish theatre and its personalities. The work of primarily one person ...

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12. Joy to the Goy and Happiness to the Jew: Communist and Jewish Aspirations in a Postwar Purimshpil

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pp. 275-294

The play Homens mapole (Haman’s Downfall) was performed in many different cities in Europe and the Americas between 1945 and 1949.1 Its author, Dr. Haim Sloves, was both a Communist and a writer committed to Jewish causes, and the play provides us with a glimpse into the mentality of a Jewish Communist ...

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13. No Raisins and Almonds in the Land of Israel: A Tale of Goldfaden Productions Featuring Four Hotsmakhs, Three Kuni-Lemls, Two Shulamits, and One Messiah

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pp. 295-320

In December 1914, a performance in Tel Aviv of Avrom Goldfaden’s (1840–1908) opera Shulamis was interrupted by a group of hotheaded high school students from Gymnasia Herzliyah, who were intent on committing acts of sabotage. The Yiddish poet Yehoash (Solomon Bloomgarden, 1870–1927) recounted in his memoirs ...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 321-324


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pp. 325-366

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pp. 367-370

Many people and organizations made this book possible, and it is a great pleasure to acknowledge their contributions here. This volume emerged from a conference, “Yiddish Theatre Revisited: New Perspectives on Drama and Performance,” held in May 2006 in Seattle at the University of Washington, ...


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pp. 371-385

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814337196
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814335048

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Judaism and literature -- Congresses.
  • Yiddish drama -- History and criticism -- Congresses.
  • Theater, Yiddish -- Congresses.
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