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!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • 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.