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Finding the Jewish Shakespeare

The Life and Legacy of Jacob Godin

by Beth Kaplan

Publication Year: 2012

An illluminating inside look at the life and times of playwright and author Jacob Gordin, a central presence in the Golden Age of Yiddish theater

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xi

For many years, I knew my grandmother’s famous father only as a majestic bronze bust, glowering in her hall. During his lifetime, Jacob Gordin was an important and beloved playwright, his plays performed wherever Yiddish speakers lived. That I knew. But to me he was...

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Note to the Reader

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pp. xiii

Gordin’s first name is written several ways: Yakov, Yankev, Ya’cov, Jacob, and the nickname Yasha. I use the Russian version while he lives in Russia, the English for his years in America, and the Hebrew—Yankev— wherever it seems right...

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Prologue: The Playwright’s Funeral

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pp. 1-7

On Friday, the lead editorial on the front page of the Jewish Daily Forward was banded in black. “Our friend is gone!” it exclaimed. “Keep this day holy! Meet at his grave! Gather in your halls! Bring flowers! Gordin is gone!” The famous playwright died...

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1. Russia

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pp. 8-33

In the middle of the nineteenth century, in the middle of the year, in the center of Ukraine, a baby was born, a sturdy boy with powerful lungs and quantities of black hair. In fact, he was so hairy that to his concerned father, at first, he looked like a monkey...

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2. A Russian Jew in America

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pp. 34-83

My great-grandfather surveyed the vast approaching city with mistrust. Here, he was sure, greed and selfishness were rampant, scholarship and philanthropy worth nothing. How would he find the strength and moral force to do...

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3. The Golden Age

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pp. 84-120

One day in 1897, an anxious Keni Lipzin sought out the Gordin family. As Jacob Gordin’s most eager and financially secure disciple, she had commissioned another play tailored to her talents for which she would pay the astronomical sum of $200. When the playwright disappeared...

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4. Denouement

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pp. 121-173

At the end of April 1903, on Easter Sunday, the Jews of the Russian city of Kishinev were subjected to one of the most barbaric pogroms in Russian history. Forty-five were killed, eighty-six badly wounded, hundreds raped, tortured...

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5. The Jewish King Lear

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pp. 174-215

My great-grandfather spent the summer of 1906 embroiled in yet another dispute over the translated Kreutzer Sonata. He insisted he had given the rights to Blanche Walsh, whose producers Wagenhals and Kemper were planning a Broadway...

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Epilogue: Gordin’s Legacy to the World and to His Family

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pp. 216-248

I have a photograph of Anna, in black, at the unveiling of her husband’s headstone in June 1910. Her face wretched under a round black hat, looking far older than fifty-one, she presses one hand to the massive chunk of ragged...

Appendix: Partial List of Gordin's Plays with Original Titles, 1891-1908

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pp. 251-256

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 257-266


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pp. 267-268


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pp. 269-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651758
E-ISBN-10: 0815651759
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609964
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609965

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 9 black & white
Publication Year: 2012