From Rabbi’s Daughter to World-Shocker

Judith Malina Turns 86 With Memoir and Documentary

Still Radical: The legendary director Judith Malina is captured in some  intimate moments in a new documentary.
Azad Jafarian
Still Radical: The legendary director Judith Malina is captured in some intimate moments in a new documentary.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published July 19, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The subject of a new documentary, “Love and Politics,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, actress and director Judith Malina is internationally celebrated for startlingly unconventional theater, such as her 2011 play “Korach: The Biblical Anarchist.”

A rabbi’s daughter who turned 86 on June 4, Malina has long been invigorating and scandalizing audiences with avant-garde theatrical inventiveness. Although occasionally appearing in films and TV — from Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) to “The Addams Family” (1991), and as a dying nun who confesses to being a gangster’s birth mother on HBO’s “The Sopranos” (2006) — Malina’s main focus has been overwhelmingly theatrical.

The Living Theatre, which she co-founded in 1947 with her husband Julian Beck, who died in 1985, broke boundaries and expectations while expressing a spirit of left-wing pacifist anarchy. For many years, the theater company also featured nudity and overt sexuality, which discomfited some of the critics and public. Before one of Malina’s 1990s theatrical happenings in Paris, the American Jewish jazz clarinetist Steve Lacy (1934–2004, born Steven Norman Lackritz) told me: “We only recently convinced Judith to put her clothes back on during the shows, since some audiences were complaining.”

Still a wild child and free spirit, Malina is deeply influenced by Yiddishkeit, which her compelling new journal and memoir, “The Piscator Notebook,” makes clear. In it we read about how Malina was born in Kiel, Germany, in 1926 to Rabbi Max Malina and Rosel Zamora. Malina’s mother, a Yiddish theater actress, had shelved her own career ambitions to raise a family. In 1928, already wary of the rise of European anti-Semitism, the family moved to New York.

Once there, as we read in Steven Lowenstein’s “Frankfurt on the Hudson: The German Jewish Community of Washington Heights, 1933-82, Its Structure and Culture,” Rabbi Malina became a key figure in New York’s German Jewish spiritual life. His daughter realized her mother’s frustrated ambitions by studying acting and directing at a school founded by one of Rosel’s artistic heroes, the leftist director Erwin Piscator, who resolved, as Malina describes, “to make the world better through the art of the theatre.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.