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Looking Back: December 2, 2011

100 Years Ago in the Forward

News from the Yiddish theater world indicates that bigwig actor/directors David Kessler and Boris Thomashefsky are attempting to form a “theater trust,” which would control all Yiddish theaters in New York City. This could be a troubling development for Yiddish theater as a whole, since moving pictures are horning in on its popularity. As it stands, young Yiddish actors and actresses already have a difficult time finding work. Under a system run by “star-bosses,” actors will find their roles entirely controlled by people who are involved in the same productions and who are thus artistically compromised. It is already an open secret that star-directors slash the lines of actors who they feel outshine them onstage. All told, this is not a healthy development for Yiddish theater.

75 Years Ago in the Forward

New facts about the 1929 Pogrom in Palestine have come to light in a new book written by British soldier Douglas Duff. The book, “Sword for Hire,” describes the author’s experience working as a British soldier on guard in Jerusalem, trying to establish peaceable relations among Christians, Jews and Muslims and often failing. According to Duff, each group has its fanatics that are willing to die for the holy places in Jerusalem. Many of them are also opposed to members of groups other than their own praying at these same holy places. Duff writes that whenever a Jew would approach the Kotel, he would warn the person that he was taking his life in his hands. It was especially dangerous for Christians and Jews, Duff notes, on Muslim holidays. During Nebi Musa, a holiday celebrating Moses, Muslims would dance in the streets of Jerusalem, shouting “Al bilad biladna, wa al yahud kalabna,” meaning, “This land is ours, and the Jews are our dogs.” Subsequent to this, gangs would attack the Jewish quarter of the city. In 1919, Duff reports, a serious slaughter of Jews took place there.**

50 Years Ago in the Forward

American critics frequently complain that satire has disappeared from this country. It used to be that comedians took our leaders to task in the form of a humorous social commentary, but this form seems to have been shunted. Even satire that was performed in a dignified manner is not appreciated. Take, for example, the comedian Sid Caesar. It used to be that he set satiric fires, but now he’s just a forgotten actor whose sin was to have used the weapon of satire. He mocked traditions of long-standing, and although some thought this was funny, others were wounded by his satiric arrows. Caesar disappeared from the scene for a while, but then he returned to television without engaging in any controversy. And it’s certainly not as interesting.

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