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Conclusion The National Theater of Birobidzhan The national theater in Birobidzhan was organized at the same time as the declaration of Jewish autonomy. The important propaganda and representational functions assigned to the theater turned it into the most active participant in the cultural life of Birobidzhan during the years of its existence. The role assigned to BirGOSET in publicizing and promoting the construction of "Soviet Jewish statehood" gave the theater's activity its unique character. Having begun its activity simultaneously with the debates then being held in the Soviet Yiddish theatrical world about how to realize the principle of "socialist realism" in practice on the Yiddish stage, BirGOSET followed the conventional path. Thus, national character was to be expressed mainly in the external form of the performances, and by means of the Yiddish language in particular. The first period of BirGOSET's activity was in many respects determined by the head of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, Shloime Mikhoels. In his conception, BirGOSET's first opening night, an evening of Sholem Aleichem, was supposed to symbolize the continuity of tradition, and at the same time to preserve and strengthen the predominant and guiding role of MosGOSET in the Soviet Yiddish theatrical hierarchy. Having at first selected a repertoire appropriate for a newly formed theatrical collective, Mikhoels then prescribed the basic "collective farm" orientation of the Birobidzhan theater. The main accent was placed upon topical Soviet subjects. To all appearances, the fact that Jewish characters were portrayed in the plays translated from Russian definitely influenced the selection of these particular plays for the repertoire. However, in the majority of cases the Jewishness of the characters was presented as simply a fact of life and did not play any essential role in their personality. A "Jewish presence," as such, was important to the Yiddish theater at that time only in order to fulfill the theater's general Soviet ideological obligations, in the framework of the work being carried on in the Yiddish-speaking milieu to advance "international education " and to uproot the remnants of capitalism in the sphere of the national question. There was no mention of the struggle against antisemitism or of any 248 IN SEARCH OF MILK AND H ONEY special characteristics of Soviet Jews in contrast to the rest of the population. The plays implied that the new Soviet Jew should not have anything in common with the Jew from "the capitalist past," and this was practically their only unique national feature. Mikhoels obviously thought that the approach he was taking was the optimum one for Birobidzhan, from the points of view of both local and national politics. Also, his directives were intended once again to confirm his own "political maturity" as head of MosGOSET. This approach, however, in no way reflected Birobidzhan's changed status as a result of the declaration of autonomy. Realizing this discrepancy, the theater tried to determine its own path. This found expression, in particular, in the stage montage on Birobidzhan topics, Royvarg. The director Avrom Aizenberg, who joined BirGOSET in 1935, attempted to lead the theater onto the path of "large-scale art." However , he did not grasp the important qualitative changes that had taken place in the aims and tasks of Yiddish theater in the USSR on the whole, and at BirGOSET in particular. It appears that a strong push from the outside was required in order to bring about a comprehension of this dynamic. And so, in a paradoxical way, this approach was actually elicited by a representative of the higher party leadership, Lazar Kaganovich. His demand, heard on the spot in Birobidzhan, to turn to the heroic past of the Jewish people and his later propensity to mention Birobidzhan Jewry together with the great Jewish historical heroes, the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba-apart from being just another signal of a change in orientation in Soviet Jewish policyindicated that something bigger was expected from BirGOSET than the subordinate role of a minor provincial collective. The Soviet leadership was demanding, in fact, that this provincial theater give a new tone to Soviet Jewish culture. In spite of the poor quality of its performances and the absence at the time of an artistic director, the fact that the theater was granted the name "in honor of L. M. Kaganovich" indicated its changed status in the clearest possible way. The Birobidzhan leadership realized the importance of the moment and felt the vital necessity of justifying the hopes of the party and the government. Kaganovich...


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Subject Headings

  • Birobidzhan (Russia) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Theater, Yiddish -- Ukraine -- History.
  • Theater, Yiddish -- Russia (Federation) -- Birobidzhan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jewish theater -- Russia (Federation) -- Birobidzhan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Birobidzhan State Yiddish Theater.
  • Jewish theater -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Jewish actors -- Soviet Union.
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