Praise for Theater’s Era of Enlightenment


By Masha Leon

Published September 05, 2003, issue of September 05, 2003.
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The August 22 cocktail party celebrating the Stella Adler Studio of Acting was held at the Bridgehampton home of Barbara and John (Bunky) Hearst overlooking the Hampton hills, a setting that reminded one guest of Kentucky. At the event, hosted by Adler Studio alum Roy Scheider, its chairman, and his wife, Brenda Seimer, the winners of the 2003 Adler Studio Awards were announced. Among the “Stella-r” guests were Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley, Bob Balaban and Lynn Grossman, Phyllis Newman, Frank Langella and Pia Lindstrom.

Ellen Adler, who has devoted her life to carrying forward the spirit of her mother, Stella Adler, and her Yiddish theater forebears — the Adler dynasty — announced the awards: “To Steven Spielberg, the Jacob Adler Award for courageous contributions to American culture; to John Travolta, the Stella Adler Award for consummate interpretation of the Stanislavsky/Adler technique; to Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, the Group Theater Award for prolific achievement in theater, film and television.” The awards will be presented in November at the “Stella by Starlight Gala” at the Rainbow Room.

Ellen Adler recalled how her grandfather Jacob Adler “came to America in the last years of the 19th century… already a great star of the Yiddish theater abroad.” She described his “passion for the Yiddish theater… [and] his audience living in tenements, working in sweat shops… Adler played for them…. But he had another mission. He fought to bring to these Jews the great plays of the West. In that way he contributed to the Haskalah, the movement to bring Jews into Western culture.”

Adler recalled, “Luther and Celia, two of Jacob’s children [Stella’s siblings], joined the Group Theatre founded by Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg. Harold, Stella’s husband and my beloved stepfather’s fondest wish was to create a theater which could bring relevant plays to its audience… And what an influence the group had! My God! It changed acting.”

* * *

Miriam Weiner, author of “Jewish Roots in Poland” and “Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova,” zigzags between the United States and Eastern Europe the way people commute between Long Island and Manhattan. Last week she called to say: “On September 8, I’m flying to Minsk. I’ll be in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova… And,” she added breathlessly, “I’m still elated about the plaque.” What plaque?

Weiner explained: “At the 23rd International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference held in Washington, D.C., on July 24 — attended by more than 1,200 delegates from 18 countries — I was named its 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award winner!”

The plaque’s inscription touts Weiner’s devotion to “identifying and researching resources for Jewish genealogical research” and her selflessness in sharing her knowledge “through lectures, articles, books, interviews and the Routes to Roots Foundation Web site, motivating countless people to research their Jewish ancestry.”

Co-published by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the books’ benefactors include The Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Family Fund.

The “Roots” books “sprouted” in the late 1980s, Weiner told me. “The Polish government invited me to Poland to discuss Jewish genealogical tours,” she said. “I sat down with a director of archives and asked him to show me the town-by-town inventory of documents…. He said, ‘We have nothing in that format.’… I did not realize it would take a decade of research… to collect material from over 100 archives in Poland…. In the early 1990s I wrote a letter to an address I found in a book, a little museum in Priluki, Ukraine. A Jewish woman who worked there found 10 documents in the local town hall, including my grandmother’s birth records. I was named after her but never knew her. She was shot by the KKK in Tulsa, Okla., in the early 1920s.”

* * *

The August 8 New York Times obituary for “Julius Baker, Principal Flutist of Philharmonic” (who died at 87 on August 6) touted Baker as “a performer… teacher… institution among flutists.” Not a hint of his Jewish roots. At a 1999 dinner honoring Baker and attended by Theodore Bikel, Lionel Hampton and Mitch Miller, America’s foremost flutist told me “the family’s original name was Bakerovitch… my father came from Titin, near Warsaw” and he remembered “my grandfather reading the ‘Yente Telebente’ serial in the Forverts.” Baker added, “There are two universal languages: Yiddish and music.” Miller interrupted Baker: “My family came from Kenishin… My bobe used to read a Bintl Briv, and I still remember the rotogravure section of the Forverts.”

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