Arts & Culture

Stage Killing

By Faith Jones

A little more than a century ago, New York’s Yiddish-speaking world was rocked by an attempted murder-suicide involving a member of one of the leading theatrical families of the day. Some 102 years later, I came across an elliptical mention of the incident but could find no more information about it in English. To figure out what really happened, I realized, I would have to delve into the archives of the era’s Yiddish newspapers.Read More

End of an Era

By Iris Blasi

Who owns history? That question has proved to be a thorny one regarding the treasure trove of archives that once lived in New York City at 31 East 7th Street. The contents of that building are the remnants of the now-defunct Hebrew Actors Union, and, with the union officially disbanded, issues of ownership of the building and the items within have been complex.Read More

Between Yiddishland and Broadway

By Edna Nahshon

Not long ago, I went to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to examine some old Yiddish theater photographs. Historic photos must be viewed in the inner sanctum of the library — a separate space where you can’t bring in personal paraphernalia, can’t use pens, can’t even whisper. When the requested materials are brought over, you’re required to wear white cotton gloves, as if handling sacred objects, and your compliance to the rules are punctiliously supervised by the great priest/ess of scholarly conduct seated at the room’s main desk. Waiting for my file to arrive, I looked at the person at the desk — a beautiful black woman of a certain age. Her voice was musical; her figure tall, trim, projecting such elegance that there was no doubt this octogenarian was a former actress or dancer. When the file was delivered and she summoned me to the desk, she looked down at the photos and her face lit up. “This is Maurice Schwartz, isn’t it?” she exclaimed. “He was wonderful. We used to go see him all the time. What a great actor!” Before I could ask who “we” were and what she remembered, someone else came to the desk with his request, her attention shifting.Read More

A Marquee for the Ages: The First Season of Maurice Schwartz’s Theater

The first season (August 1918 - May 1919) of Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater opened at the 900-seat Irving Place Theatre, built as a German theater, in New York City’s Union Square. Schwartz’s repertory company lasted more than 30 seasons. The original cast of 15 principals (plus often dozens of extras) included Schwartz, Celia Adler, Bertha Gersten, Jacob Ben-Ami, Ludwig Satz, Boris Rosenthal, Annie Meltzer, Anna Appel, Madame Nadolski, Klara Rosenthal, Yekhiel Goldsmith, Max Wilner, Julius Erber, Madame Rosenthal and Nadolski. In 1922, Schwartz moved the company to the 2,000-seat theater built especially for his Art Theater on Second Avenue and 12th Street, now a Loews cinema multiplex. (Actors who performed with Schwartz throughout his career include Academy Award Winner Paul Muni, Joseph Buloff, Stella Adler, Luba Kadison, Isaiah Sheffer and Leonard Nimoy.)Read More

The Irish and the Yiddish Theaters

By Caraid O’Brien

How does an Irish Catholic become a translator of Yiddish drama? It’s a question I am asked, over and over. The short answer is that I came to study Yiddish literature, and later Yiddish theater, through my love of the Anglo-Irish and Gaelic literary traditions. The longer answer requires a bit of history.Read More

Beyond ‘The Dybbuk’

Although recent years have seen published translations of Yiddish plays into Russian, German and Hebrew, the English language seems only to see reincarnations of “The Dybbuk.” In this respect, “Landmark Yiddish Plays: A Critical Anthology” (State University of New York Press), compiled by Jeremy Dauber and Joel Berkowitz, is itself a landmark. It brings to English audiences expert and carefully annotated versions of some of the finest Yiddish plays produced. The volume includes “Silliness and Sanctimony” (1795) by Aaron Halle-Wolfssohn, Shlomo Ettinger’s “Serkele” (1838), “The Two Kuni-Lemls” (1880) by Abraham Goldfaden, Peretz Hirshbein’s “Miriam” (1906) and “The Duke” (1926) by Alter Kacyzne. To mark the occasion, Yiddish theater scholar and Forward contributor Alyssa Quint spoke to Berkowitz, associate professor and chair of the Judaic studies department at the University at Albany, and Dauber, assistant professor of Germanic languages and literatures at Columbia University.Read More

Springtime for Spinoza

By Allan Nadler

In April 1655, the year before Amsterdam’s Jewish community excommunicated him, Baruch Spinoza was the victim of a failed assassination. According to French encyclopedist Pierre Bayle, Spinoza was attacked “on leaving the theatre by a Jew who attacked him with a knife. The wound was slight, but Spinoza believed that it was the assassin’s intention to kill him.” In all likelihood, Spinoza was in the company of his close friend and Latin mentor, Franciscus van den Enden, known to be a passionate lover of the theater. Most accounts of Spinoza’s life append the story of this attack by noting that he wore the deliberately un-mended coat as a badge of courage until his dying day.Read More

The Yiddish Play That Bewitched Israeli Theater-goers

By Donny Inbar

More than the artistic peak of “The Dybbuk” or the moving tragicomedy of “Tevye the Dairyman,” another play from Yiddish theater repertoire has never failed to enchant theatergoers in Israel in the past 70 years. Surprisingly, the spell was cast by a piece that could easily be considered shund (trash) — naive, primitive, old fashioned, ridiculous. In fact, even the great Sholom Aleichem, Tevye’s literary father, was himself fascinated by this silly musical. This was also the first Yiddish play that was produced in America in the early 1880s, with teenager Boris Thomashefsky playing, in drag, the role of a poor orphaned girl. And this same shmatte was to make history across the ocean, among the Zionist pioneers and their descendants. And that’s not all: Unbeknownst to contemporary Israelis, a popular current saying can be traced directly to the play’s songbook.Read More

Jews in the Court

By Raphael Mostel

For years, it has been commonly believed that Jews were banned from England in 1290 and not allowed back until Oliver Cromwell lifted the ban in 1656. But new research, uncovered through means worthy of a first-rate detective novel, has revealed that not only were there Jews in the Britain; they were right under the royal noses.Read More

Ghost Town

By Noga Tarnopolsky

Just how (unconsciously, breezily) Catholic is Barcelona? Contemplate, for a moment, the ultra-popular 11 a.m. Saturday exercise class led by Xavi, a step-aerobics guru at the Club Natació Atlètic-Barceloneta. Barceloneta is a beachfront neighborhood that is slightly more than 100 years old and was originally built for dockworkers — once famously painted by Picasso — and now slowly gentrifying. Xavi, like a significant proportion of the club membership, is gay, and to all appearances not concerned by the particulars of weekend liturgy. But when he directs his class in a set of pectoral workouts, what he yells out is, “Okay, boys and girls, lie down on the cross!”Read More

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