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Mina Bern, Yiddish Theater Doyenne, Dead at 98

Mina Bern, the doyenne of Yiddish theater who performed for audiences around the globe and acted in 12 films, died January 10 in New York City. She was 98.

She spoke five languages, but said she was proud that Yiddish was her “best.” “Yiddish is such a rich language. As an actress I can convey sorrow, pain, fear and pleasure without having to look for a word,” she was quoted as saying in a 2006 Lilith article, “Yiddish Divas Take the Stage.”

The legendary actress was a major star in her native Poland, and then went on to similar success in Russia and Israel. In 1949, Bern arrived in New York City, where her first production was “Shalom Tel Aviv,” at the National Theater on Houston Street.

Illustrious Star of the Yiddish Theater: Mina Bern, dead at 98 years old, leaves behind a prodigious body of work. Image by Karen Leon

Her early credits on Broadway included performances in “Let’s Sing Yiddish” and “Sing, Israel, Sing.” She directed and performed in the 1970 production of “Light, Lively and Yiddish.”

At age 79, in 1990, she starred in “Those Were the Days,” according the Internet Broadway Database and the Web site Filmbug..

Bern turned her talent to movies, too, landing roles in such major films as “Avalon,” “Crossing Delancey,” “Little Odessa,” and “I’m Not Rappaport.”

For 25 years, she traveled with her husband, the late Ben Bonus, under the auspices of The Workman’s Circle, bringing Yiddish to audiences across the country. Their hits included the 1976 production of “Long Live Columbus!” a tribute to the American bicentennial.

After her husband died in 1984, Bern continued as a solo actress and joined the Folksbiene’s.

She won an Obie Award for her performance in Folksbiene’s production of “Sweet Dreams” in 1999, and garnered rave reviews for her portrayal of a feisty aunt in Folksbiene’s production of “An American Family.”

In 2002, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Yiddish Theater.

Her funeral will be held at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, January 12, at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, New York City. Burial will take place at the grounds of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance, Mount Hebron Cemetery, Flushing, N.Y.

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