Avi Hoffman Channels Poet Itzik Manger at City University

By Masha Leon

Published September 21, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“Why Manger?” I asked Matthew “Motl” Didner, producer and associate artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene production of “Reflections of a Lost Poet: The Life and Works of Itzik Manger,” at the show’s September 9 performance, held at Baruch College’s Engelman Recital Hall. “Because it is the perfect companion piece to his ‘Megile of Itzik Manger’ — a poetic cycle about the Book of Esther that was set to music and was the last entirely Yiddish musical to play on Broadway in the 1968 season,” he said.

Binyumen Schaechter with Avi Hoffman
Karen Leon
Binyumen Schaechter with Avi Hoffman

“Reflections” was written by Miriam Hoffman. Binyumen Schaechter arranged the music. Avi Hoffman, speaking in impeccably articulated Yiddish, gave voice to Manger’s wailing arrival in this world, declaring, “I had no desire to be born.” Manger rants against God and mourns the loss of the Jews. His tone is not a pleading one, but rather a Yiddish j’accuse “over the ruins of Poland.”

Between sips of wine, Hoffman morphed into Manger, known as a hopeless romantic who was fond of creating fictional biographies of himself and passing them off as truth. He was born in 1901 in Czernowitz, then a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and he died in Israel in 1969. When Hoffman performed Manger’s “Yidl Mitn Fidl, Arye Mitn Bas” (“Yidl With Your Fiddle and Arye With Your Bass”), many in the audience joined in singing its refrain: ““Dos lebn iz a shpas*” (“Life’s but a joke”).

After the performance I chatted with Bryna Wasserman, executive director of Folksbiene. She seemed pleased with the audience’s reaction. “Bringing [Yiddish theater] to new audiences… is part of what we want to do with Avi’s production,” Wasserman said. “It inspired an audience that didn’t necessarily understand the Yiddish, but, through the musicality of the language and the supertitles, got the best of both worlds… a fully rounded experience.”


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!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • 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.