Abraham Goldfaden Yiddish: אַבֿרהם גאָלדפֿאַדען; (born Avrum Goldnfoden; the Romanian spelling Avram Goldfaden is common; 24 July 1840 in Starokostiantyniv – 9 January 1908 in New York City) was a Russian-born Jewish poet, playwright, stage director and actor in the languages Yiddish and Hebrew, author of some 40 plays. Goldfaden is considered the father of modern Jewish theatre.
In 1876 he founded in Romania what is generally credited as the world's first professional Yiddish-language theater troupe. He was also responsible for the first Hebrew-language play performed in the United States. The Avram Goldfaden Festival of Iaşi, Romania, is named and held in his honour.
Jacob Sternberg called him "the Prince Charming who woke up the lethargic Romanian Jewish culture." Israil Bercovici wrote of his works: "we find points in common with what we now call 'total theater'. In many of his plays he alternates prose and verse, pantomime and dance, moments of acrobatics and some of jonglerie, and even of spiritualism..."
|Origin||Starokostiantyniv, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)|
|Genres||Yiddish theatre, operetta|
Goldfaden was born in Starokonstantinov (Russia; present day Ukraine). His birthdate is sometimes given as July 12, following the "Old Style" calendar in use at that time in the Russian Empire. He attended a Jewish religious school (a cheder), but his middle-class family was strongly associated with the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, and his father, a watchmaker, arranged that he receive private lessons in German and Russian. As a child, he is said to have appreciated and imitated the performances of wedding jesters and Brody singers to the degree that he acquired the nickname Avromele Badkhen, "Abie the Jester." In 1857 he began studies at the government-run rabbinical school at Zhytomyr, from which he emerged in 1866 as a teacher and a poet (with some experience in amateur theater), but he never led a congregation.
Goldfaden's first published poem was called "Progress"; his The New York Times obituary described it as "a plea for Zionism years before that movement developed." In 1865 he published his first book of poetry, Tzitzim u-Ferahim (in Hebrew); The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906) says that "Goldfaden's Hebrew poetry ... possesses considerable merit, but it has been eclipsed by his Yiddish poetry, which, for strength of expression and for depth of true Jewish feeling, remains unrivaled." The first book of verse in Yiddish was published in 1866, and in 1867 he took a job teaching in Simferopol.
A year later, he moved on to Odessa (in Ukraine). He lived initially in his uncle's house, where a cousin who was a good pianist helped him set some of his poems to music. In Odessa, Goldfaden renewed his acquaintance with fellow Yiddish-language writer Yitzkhok Yoel Linetzky, whom he knew from Zhytomyr and met Hebrew-language poet Eliahu Mordechai Werbel (whose daughter Paulina would become Goldfaden's wife) and published poems in the newspaper Kol-Mevaser. He also wrote his first two plays, Die Tzwei Sheines (The Two Neighbors) and Die Murneh Sosfeh (Aunt Susie), included with some verses in a modestly successful 1869 book Die Yidene (The Jewish Woman), which went through three editions in three years. At this time, he and Paulina were living mainly on his meagre teacher's salary of 18 rubles a year, supplemented by giving private lessons and taking a job as a cashier in a hat shop.
In 1875, Goldfaden headed for Munich, intending to study medicine. This did not work out, and he headed for Lvov/Lemberg in Galicia, where he again met up with Linetsky, now editor of a weekly paper, Isrulik or Der Alter Yisrulik (which was well reputed, but was soon shut by the government). A year later, he moved on to Chernivtsi in Bukovina, where he edited the Yiddish-language daily Dos Bukoviner Israelitishe Folksblatt. The limits of the economic sense of this enterprise can be gauged from his inability to pay a registration fee of 3000 ducats. He tried unsuccessfully to operate the paper under a different name, but soon moved on to Iaşi on the invitation of Isaac Librescu (1850–1930), a young wealthy communitary activist interested in theatre.
Arriving in Iaşi (Jassy) in 1876, Goldfaden was fortunate to be better known as a good poet — many of whose poems had been set to music and had become popular songs — than as a less-than-successful businessman. Nevertheless, when he sought funds from Isaac Librescu for another newspaper, Librescu was uninterested in that proposition. Librescu's wife remarked that Yiddish-language journalism was just a way to starve; she suggested that there would be a lot more of a market for Yiddish-language theater. Librescu offered Goldfaden 100 francs for a public recital of his songs in the garden of Shimen Mark, Grădina Pomul Verde ("the Green Fruit-Tree Garden").
Instead of a simple recital, Goldfaden expanded the program into something of a vaudeville performance; either this or an indoor performance he and his fellow performers gave later that year in Botoşani is generally counted as the first professional Yiddish theatre performance. However, in the circumstances, the designation of a single performance as "the first" may be nominal: Goldfaden's first actor, Israel Grodner, was already singing Goldfaden's songs (and others) in the salons of Iaşi; also, in 1873, Grodner sang in a concert in Odessa (songs by Goldfaden, among others) that apparently included significant improvised material between songs, although no actual script.
Although Goldfaden, by his own account, was familiar at this time with "practically all of Russian literature", and also had plenty of exposure to Polish theater, and had even seen an African American tragedian, Ira Aldridge, performing Shakespeare, the performance at Grădina Pomul Verde was only a bit more of a play than Grodner had participated in three years earlier. The songs were strung together with a bit of character and plot and a good bit of improvisation. The performance by Goldfaden, Grodner, Sokher Goldstein, and possibly as many as three other men went over well. The first performance was either Di bobe mitn einikl (Grandmother and Granddaughter) or Dos bintl holts (The Bundle of sticks); sources disagree. (Some reports suggest that Goldfaden himself was a poor singer, or even a non-singer and poor actor; according to Bercovici, these reports stem from Goldfaden's own self-disparaging remarks or from his countenance as an old man in New York, but contemporary reports show him to have been a decent, though not earth-shattering, actor and singer.)
After that time, Goldfaden continued miscellaneous newspaper work, but the stage became his main focus.
As it happens, the famous Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu, then journalist, saw one of the Pomul Verde performances later that summer. He records in his review that the company had six players. (A 1905 typographical error would turn this into a much-cited sixteen, suggesting a grander beginning for Yiddish theater.) He was impressed by the quality of the singing and acting, but found the pieces "without much dramatic interest. His generally positive comments would seem to deserve to be taken seriously: Eminescu was known generally as "virulently antisemitic." Eminescu appears to have seen four of Goldfaden's early plays: a satiric musical revue Di velt a gan-edn (The World and Paradise), Der farlibter maskil un der oyfgeklerter hosid (a dialogue between "an infatuated philosopher" and "an enlightened Hasid"), another musical revue Der shver mitn eidem (Father-in-law and Son-in-Law), and a comedy, Fishl der balegole un zayn knecht Sider (Fishel the Junkman and His Servant Sider).
As the season for outdoor performances was coming to a close, Goldfaden tried and failed to rent an appropriate theater in Iaşi. A theater owner named Reicher, presumably Jewish himself, told him that "a troupe of Jewish singers" would be "too dirty." Goldfaden, Grodner, and Goldstein headed first to Botoşani, where they lived in a garret and Goldfaden continued to churn out songs and plays. An initial successful performance of Di Rekruten (The Recruits) in an indoor theater ("with loges!" as Goldfaden wrote) was followed by days of rain so torrential that no one would come out to the theater; they pawned some possessions and left for Galaţi, which was to prove a bit more auspicious, with a successful three-week run.
In Galaţi they acquired their first serious set designer, a housepainter known as Reb Moishe Bas. He had no formal artistic training, but he proved to be good at the job, and joined the troupe, as did Sara Segal, their first actress. She was not yet out of her teens. After seeing her perform in their Galaţi premiere, her mother objected to her unmarried daughter cavorting on a stage like that. Goldstein – who, unlike Goldfaden and Grodner, was single – promptly married her and she remained with the troupe. (Besides being known as Sara Segal and Sofia Goldstein, she became best known as Sofia Karp, after a second marriage to actor Max Karp.)
As in Iaşi, Goldfaden arrived in Bucharest with his reputation already established. He and his players performed first in the early spring at the salon Lazăr Cafegiu on Calea Văcăreşti (Văcăreşti Avenue, in the heart of the ghetto), then, once the weather turned warm, at the Jigniţa garden, a pleasant tree-shaded beer garden on Str. Negru Vodă that up until then had drawn only a neighborhood crowd. He filled out his cast from the great pool of Jewish vocal talent: synagogue cantors. He also recruited two eminently respectable classically trained prima donnas, the sisters Margaretta and Annetta Schwartz.
Among the cantors in his casts that year were Lazăr Zuckermann (also known as Laiser Zuckerman; as a song-and-dance man, he would eventually follow Goldfaden to New York and have a long stage career), Moishe Zilberman (also known as Silberman), and Simhe Dinman, as well as the 18-year-old Zigmund Mogulescu (Sigmund Mogulesko), who soon became a stage star. Orphaned by his teen years, Mogulescu had already made his way in the world as a singer – not only as a soloist in the Great Synagogue of Bucharest but also as a performer in cafes, at parties, with a visiting French operetta company, and even in a church choir. Before his voice changed, he had sung with Zuckerman, Dinman, and Moses Wald in the "Israelite Chorus," performing at important ceremonies in the Jewish community. Mogulescu's audition for Goldfaden was a scene from Vlăduţu Mamei (Mama's Boy), which formed the basis later that year for Goldfaden's light comedy Shemdrik, oder Die Komishe Chaseneh (Shmendrik or The Comical Wedding), starring Mogulescu as the almost painfully clueless and hapless young man (a role later famously played in New York and elsewhere by actress Molly Picon).
This recruiting of cantors was not without controversy: Cantor Cuper (also known as Kupfer), the head cantor of the Great Synagogue, considered it "impious" that cantors should perform in a secular setting, to crowds where both sexes mingled freely, keeping people up late so that they might not be on time for morning prayers.
While one may argue over which performance "started" Yiddish theater, by the end of that summer in Bucharest Yiddish theater was an established fact. The influx of Jewish merchants and middlemen to the city at the start of the Russo-Turkish War had greatly expanded the audience; among these new arrivals were Israel Rosenberg and Jacob Spivakovsky, the highly cultured scion of a wealthy Russian Jewish family, both of whom actually joined Goldfaden's troupe, but soon left to found the first Yiddish theater troupe in Imperial Russia.
Goldfaden was churning out a repertoire – new songs, new plays, and translations of plays from Romanian, French, and other languages (in the first two years, he wrote 22 plays, and would eventually write about 40) – and while he was not always able to retain the players in his company once they became stars in their own right, he continued for many years to recruit first-rate talent, and his company became a de facto training ground for Yiddish theater. By the end of the year, others were writing Yiddish plays as well, such as Moses Horowitz with Der tiranisher bankir (The Tyrannical Banker), or Grodner with Curve un ganev (Prostitute and Thief), and Yiddish theater had become big theater, with elaborate sets, duelling choruses, and extras to fill out crowd scenes.
Goldfaden was helped by Ion Ghica, then head of the Romanian National Theater to legally establish a "dramatic society" to handle administrative matters. From those papers, we know that the troupe at the Jigniţa included Moris Teich, Michel Liechman (Glückman), Lazăr Zuckermann, Margareta Schwartz, Sofia Palandi, Aba Goldstein, and Clara Goldstein. We also know from similar papers that when Grodner and Mogulescu walked out on Goldfaden to start their own company, it included (besides themselves) Israel Rosenberg, Jacob Spivakovsky, P. Şapira, M. Banderevsky, Anetta Grodner, and Rosa Friedman.
Ion Ghica was a valuable ally for Yiddish theater in Bucharest. On several occasions he expressed his favorable view of the quality of acting, and even more of the technical aspects of the Yiddish theater. In 1881, he obtained for the National Theater the costumes that had been used for a Yiddish pageant on the coronation of King Solomon, which had been timed in tribute to the actual coronation of Carol I of Romania.
While light comedy and satire might have established Yiddish theater as a commercially successful medium, it was Goldfaden's higher aspirations for it that eventually earned him recognition as "the Yiddish Shakespeare." As a man broadly read in several languages, he was acutely aware that there was no Eastern European Jewish tradition of dramatic literature – that his audience was used to seeking just "a good glass of Odobeşti and a song." Years later, he would paraphrase the typical Yiddish theatergoer of the time as saying to him: "We don't go to the theater to make our head swim with sad things. We have enough troubles at home... We go to the theater to cheer ourselves up. We pay up a coin and hope to be distracted, we want to laugh from the heart."
Goldfaden wrote that this attitude put him "pure and simply at war with the public." His stage was not to be merely "a masquerade"; he continued: "No, brothers. If I have arrived at having a stage, I want it to be a school for you. In youth you didn't have time to learn and cultivate yourself... Laugh heartily if I amuse you with my jokes, while I, watching you, feel my heart crying. Then, brothers, I'll give you a drama, a tragedy drawn from life, and you, too, shall cry – while my heart shall be glad." Nonetheless, his "war with the public" was based on understanding that public. He would also write, "I wrote Di kishefmakhern (The Witch) in Romania, where the populace – Jews as much as Romanians – believe strongly in witches." Local superstitions and concerns always made good subject matter, and, as Bercovici remarks, however strong his inspirational and didactic intent, his historical pieces were always connected to contemporary concerns.
Even in the first couple of years of his company, Goldfaden did not shy away from serious themes: his rained-out vaudeville in Botoşani had been Di Rekruten (The Recruits), playing with the theme of the press gangs working the streets of that town to conscript young men into the army. Before the end of 1876, Goldfaden had already translated Desolate Island by August von Kotzebue; thus, a play by a German aristocrat and Russian spy became the first non-comic play performed professionally in Yiddish. After his initial burst of mostly vaudevilles and light comedies (although Shmendrik and The Two Kuni-Lemls were reasonably sophisticated plays), Goldfaden would go on to write many serious Yiddish-language plays on Jewish themes, perhaps the most famous being Shulamith, also from 1880. Goldfaden himself suggested that this increasingly serious turn became possible because he had educated his audience. Nahma Sandrow suggests that it may have had equally as much to do with the arrival in Romania, at the time of the Russo-Turkish War, of Russian Jews who had been exposed to more sophisticated Russian language theater. Goldfaden's strong turn toward almost uniformly serious subject matter roughly coincided with bringing his troupe to Odessa.
Goldfaden was both a theoretician and a practitioner of theater. That he was in no small measure a theoretician – for example, he was interested almost from the start in having set design seriously support the themes of his plays – relates to a key property of Yiddish theater at the time of its birth: in general, writes Bercovici, theory ran ahead of practice. Much of the Jewish community, Goldfaden included, were already familiar with contemporary theater in other languages. The initial itinerary of Goldfaden's company – Iaşi, Botoşani, Galaţi, Brăila, Bucharest – could as easily have been the itinerary of a Romanian-language troupe. Yiddish theater may have been seen from the outset as an expression of a Jewish national character, but the theatrical values of Goldfaden's company were in many ways those of a good Romanian theater of the time. Also, Yiddish was a German dialect which became a well-known language even among non-Jews in Moldavia (and Transylvania), an important language of commerce; the fact that one of the first to write about Yiddish theater was Romania's national poet, Mihai Eminescu, is testimony that interest in Yiddish theater went beyond the Jewish community.
Almost from the first, Yiddish theater drew a level of theater criticism comparable to any other European theater of its time. For example, Bercovici cites a "brochure" by one G. Abramski, published in 1877, that described and gave critiques of all of Goldfaden's plays of that year. Abramski speculated that the present day might be for Yiddish theater a moment comparable to the Elizabethan era for English theater. He discussed what a Yiddish theater ought to be, noted its many sources (ranging from Purim plays to circus pantomime), and praised its incorporation of strong female roles. He also criticized where he saw weaknesses, noting how unconvincingly a male actor played the mother in Shmendrik, or remarking of the play Di shtume kale (The Mute Bride) — a work that Goldfaden apparently wrote to accommodate a pretty, young actress who in the performance was too nervous to deliver her lines — that the only evidence of Goldfaden's authorship was his name.
Goldfaden's father wrote him to solicit the troupe to come to Odessa in Ukraine, which was then part of Imperial Russia. The timing was opportune: the end of the war meant that much of his best audience were now in Odessa rather than Bucharest; Rosenberg had already quit Goldfaden's troupe and was performing the Goldfadenian repertoire in Odessa.
With a loan from Librescu, Goldfaden headed east with a group of 42 people, including performers, musicians, and their families. After the end of the Russo-Turkish War he and his troupe travelled extensively through Imperial Russia, notably to Kharkov (also in Ukraine), Moscow, and Saint Petersburg. Jacob Adler later described him at this time as "a bon vivant," "a cavalier," "as difficult to approach as an emperor." He continued to turn out plays at a prolific pace, now mostly serious pieces such as Doctor Almasada, oder Die Yiden in Palermo (Doctor Almasada, or The Jews of Palermo), Shulamith, and Bar Kokhba, the last being a rather dark operetta about Bar Kokhba's revolt, written after the pogroms in Russia following the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II.
As it happens, a Frenchman named Victor Tissot happened to be in Berdichev when Goldfaden's company was there. He saw two plays – Di Rekruten, first premiered in Botoşani, and the later Di Shvebleh (Matches), a play of intrigue. Tissot's account of what he saw gives an interesting picture of the theaters and audiences Goldfaden's troupe encountered outside of the big cities. "Berdichev," he begins, "has not one cafe, not one restaurant. Berdichev, which is a boring and sad city, nonetheless has a theatrical hall, a big building made of rough boards, where theater troupes passing through now and then put on a play." Although there was a proper stage with a curtain, the cheap seats were bare benches, the more expensive ones were benches covered in red percale. Although there were many full beards, "there were no long caftans, no skullcaps." Some of the audience were quite poor, but these were assimilated Jews, basically secular. The audience also included Russian officers with their wives or girlfriends.
In Russia, Goldfaden and his troupe drew large audiences and were generally popular with progressive Jewish intellectuals, but slowly ran afoul of both the Czarist government and conservative elements in the Jewish community. Goldfaden was calling for change in the Jewish world:
A call like this might be a bit ambiguous, but it was unsettling to those who were on the side of the status quo. Yiddish theater was banned in Russia starting September 14, 1883, as part of the anti-Jewish reaction following the assassination of Czar Alexander II. Goldfaden and his troupe were left adrift in Saint Petersburg. They headed various directions, some to England, some to New York City, some to Poland, some to Romania.
While Yiddish theater continued successfully in various places, Goldfaden was not on the best terms at this time with Mogulescu. They had quarrelled (and settled) several times over rights to plays, and Mogulescu and his partner Moishe "Maurice" Finkel now dominated Yiddish theater in Romania, with about ten lesser companies competing as well. Mogulescu was a towering figure in Bucharest theater at this point, lauded on a level comparable to the actors of the National Theater, performing at times in Romanian as well as Yiddish, drawing an audience that went well beyond the Jewish community.
Goldfaden seems, in Bercovici's words, to have lost "his theatrical elan" in this period. He briefly put together a theater company in 1886 in Warsaw, with no notable success. In 1887 he went to New York (as did Mogulescu, independently). After extensive negotiations and great anticipation in the Yiddish-language press in New York ("Goldfaden in America," read the headline in the 11 January 1888 edition of the New Yorker Yiddishe Ilustrirte Zaitung), he briefly took on the job of director of Mogulescu's new "Rumanian Opera House"; they parted ways again after the failure of their first play, whose production values were apparently not up to New York standards. Goldfaden attempted (unsuccessfully) to found a theater school, then headed in 1889 for Paris, rather low on funds. There he wrote some poetry, worked on a play that he didn't finish at that time, and put together a theater company that never got to the point of putting on a play (because the cashier made off with all of their funds). In October 1889 he scraped together the money to get to Lvov, where his reputation as a poet again came to his rescue.
Lviv was not exactly a dramatist's dream. Leon Dreykurs described audiences bringing meals into the theater, rustling paper, treating the theater like a beer garden. He also quotes Jacob Schatzky: "All in all, the Galician milieu was not favorable to Yiddish theater. The intellectuals were assimilated, but the masses were fanatically religious and they viewed Jewish 'comedians' with disdain."
Nonetheless, Iacob Ber Ghimpel, who owned a Yiddish theater there, was glad to have a figure of Goldfaden's stature. Goldfaden completed the play he'd started in Paris, Rabi Yoselman, oder Die Gzerot fun Alsas ("Rabbi Yoselman, or The Alsatian Decree"), in five acts and 23 scenes, based on the life of Josel of Rosheim. At this time he also wrote an operetta Rothschild and a semi-autobiographical play called Mashiach Tzeiten (Messiah Times) that gave a less-than-optimistic view of America.
Kalman Juvelier, an actor in Ber Ghimpel's company, credited Goldfaden with greatly strengthening the caliber of performance in Lviv during his brief time there, reporting that Goldfaden worked with every actor on understanding his or her character, so as to ensure that the play was more than just a series of songs and effects, and was respected by all.
Buoyed by his success in Lvov, he returned to Bucharest in 1892, as director of the Jigniţa theater. His new company again included Lazăr Zuckermann; other players were Marcu (Mordechai) Segalescu, and later Iacob Kalich, Carol Schramek, Malvina Treitler-Löbel and her father H. Goldenbers. Among his notable plays from this period were Dos zenteh Gebot, oder Lo tachmod (The Tenth Commandment, or Thou Shalt Not Covet), Judas Maccabaeus, and Judith and Holfernes and a translation of Johann Strauss's Gypsy Baron.
However, it was not a propitious time to return to Romania. Yiddish theater had become a business there, with slickly written advertisements, coordinated performances in multiple cities using the same publicity materials, and cutthroat competition: on one occasion in 1895, a young man named Bernfeld attended multiple performances of Goldfaden's Story of Isaac, memorized it all (including the songs), and took the whole package to Kalman Juvilier, who put on an unauthorized production in Iaşi. Such outright theft was possible because once Ion Ghica headed off on a diplomatic career, the National Theater, which was supposed to adjudicate issues like unauthorized performances of plays, was no longer paying much attention to Yiddish theater. (Juvilier and Goldfaden finally reached an out-of-court settlement.)
Cutthroat competition was nothing to what was to follow. The 1890s were a tough time for the Romanian economy, and a rising tide of anti-Semitism made it an even tougher time for the Jews. One quarter of the Jewish population emigrated, with intellectuals particularly likely to leave, and those intellectuals who remained were more interested in politics than in theater: this was a period of social ferment, with Jewish socialists in Iaşi starting Der Veker (The Awakener).
Goldfaden left Romania in 1896; soon Juvilier's was the only active Yiddish theater troupe in the country, and foreign troupes had almost entirely ceased coming to the country. Although Lateiner, Horowitz, and Shumer kept writing, and occasionally managed to put on a play, it was not a good time for Yiddish theater – or any theater – in Romania, and would only become worse as the economy continued to decline.
Goldfaden wandered Europe as a poet and journalist. His plays continued to be performed in Europe and America, but rarely, if ever, did anyone send him royalties. His health deteriorated – a 1903 letter refers to asthma and spitting up blood – and he was running out of money. In 1903, he wrote Jacob Dinesohn from Paris, authorizing him to sell his remaining possessions in Romania, clothes and all. This gave him the money to head once more to New York in 1904.
In America, he again tried his hand at journalism, but a brief stint as editor of the New Yorker Yiddishe Ilustrirte Zaitung resulted only in getting the paper suspended and landing himself a rather large fine. On March 31, 1905, he recited poetry at a benefit performance at Cooper Union to raise a pension for Yiddish poet Eliakum Zunser, even worse off than himself because he had found himself unable to write since coming to America in 1889. Shortly afterwards, he met a group of young people who had a Hebrew language association at the Dr. Herzl Zion Club, and wrote a Hebrew-language play David ba-Milchama (David in the War), which they performed in March 1906, the first Hebrew-language play to be performed in America. Repeat performances in March 1907 and April 1908 drew successively larger crowds.
He also wrote the spoken portions of Ben Ami, loosely based on George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. After Goldfaden's former bit player Jacob Adler — by now the owner of a prominent New York Yiddish theater — optioned and ignored it, even accusing Goldfaden of being "senile," it premiered successfully at rival Boris Thomashefsky's People's Theater December 25, 1907, with music by H. Friedzel and lyrics by Mogulescu, who was by this time an international star.
Goldfaden died in New York City in 1908. A contemporary account in The New York Times estimated that 75,000 people turned out for his funeral, joining the procession from the People's Theater on Bowery to Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn; in recent scholarship the number of mourners has been given as 30,000. In a follow-up article The New York Times called him "both a poet and a prophet," and noted that "there was more evidence of genuine sympathy with and admiration for the man and his work than is likely to be manifested at the funeral of any poet now writing in the English language in this country."
In November 2009, Goldfaden was the subject of postage stamps issued jointly by Israel and Romania.
Goldfaden had an on-again off-again relationship with Zionism. Some of his earliest poetry was Zionist avant la lettre and one of his last plays was written in Hebrew; several of his plays were implicitly or explicitly Zionist (Shulamith set in Jerusalem, Mashiach Tzeiten?! ending with its protagonists abandoning New York for Palestine); he served as a delegate from Paris to the World Zionist Congress in 1900. Still, he spent most of his life (and set slightly more than half of his plays) in the Pale of Settlement and in the adjoining Jewish areas in Romania, and when he left it was never to go to Palestine, but to cities such as New York, London or Paris. This might be understandable when the number of his potential Jewish spectators in Palestine in his time was very small.
Sources disagree about the dates (and even the names) of some of Goldfaden's plays. The titles here represent YIVO Yiddish>English transliteration, though other variants exist.
Goldfaden wrote hundreds of songs and poems. Among his most famous are:
Annetta Grodner (or Gradner) was a Ukrainian Jewish singer and actress, the first prima donna in Yiddish theater.
The daughter of a bootmaker in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, she met and married Israel Grodner some time around 1870, when he passed through Kremenchuk in the course of his wanderings as a young Broder singer. Her husband was recruited by Abraham Goldfaden as the first professional Yiddish-language stage actor, but initially Yiddish theater was an entirely male affair. The gender barrier was broken by the teenaged Sara Segal, later famous under the name Sophie Karp. However, Annetta Grodner was the first to play prima donna roles.
Jacob Adler wrote that she was "an actress with the seventh degree of charm" and that her singing voice was "not strong, but melodious—a voice 'with tears in it.' There was always something sweetly sad in her singing—even her gay songs tore at your heart."
Annetta Grodner shared many (though not all) of her husband's wanderings through Europe until his early death in London in 1887.Avrom Ber Gotlober
Avrom Ber Gotlober (January 14, 1811, Starokonstantinov, Volhynia – April 12, 1899, Białystok) was a Jewish writer, poet, playwright, historian, journalist and educator from the Russian Empire. He mostly wrote in Hebrew, but also wrote poetry and dramas in Yiddish. His first collection was published in 1835.
Gotlober's last name is often transliterated as Gottlober. He was widely known by his initials, ABG, which in Hebrew and Yiddish are the first three letters, alef-bet-giml.
ABG was a maskil, a leader in the haskalah, the nineteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment in Russia and Eastern Europe. While his literary output is no longer widely known, he was important for several reasons:
As a teacher in the state-sponsored schools for Jews, where he taught and influenced two founders of Yiddish literature: Mendele Mocher Sforim, whom Sholom Aleichem called "the zeyde (grandfather) of us all", and Abraham Goldfaden, the founder of the professional Yiddish theater.
As a historian who wrote histories of the Karaites (Bikoret le-toldot ha-Karaim) and of the Hasidism and Kabbalah (Toldot ha-Kabalah veha-Hasidut) that are still cited by scholars.
As a social observer and memoirist, who had the fortune to live long enough to describe the social and political conditions of the 1820s and 1830s for audiences of the 1880s. Scholars widely cite his memoirs (Zikhronot u-masaot, or Memoirs and Travels), his contribution to Sholom Aleichem's Yudishe Folks-Bibliothek, and his articles in his own periodical Ha-Boker Or (The Morning Light) and in other periodicals.Breindele Cossack
Breindele Cossack (Yiddish: Breindele Kozak) is a darkly comic 1887 Yiddish-language play by Abraham Goldfaden, generally accounted one of the best of his early works. The title character is a woman who, at the start of the play, has already driven five husbands to suicide. The play is centered on her and her sixth husband, Guberman, who marries her fully aware of her history and believing he will be different; however, she ultimately drives him to suicide as well.Doctor Almasaro
Doctor Almasaro, or The Jews of Palermo (original Yiddish title Doctor Almasaro, oder Die Yiden in Palermo) is a historical, dramatic play in rhymed couplets by Abraham Goldfaden, written some time between 1880 and 1883. The title character's name is also variously rendered as Doctor Almasado, Doctor Almaraso, and Doctor Almasada.
Jacob Adler describes it as being written in "pure, simple Yiddish", avoiding the tendency of many Yiddish historical plays of its time to "Germanize" the Yiddish, especially for Gentile characters, a practice comparable to using many words of Latin origin in one's English. Adler criticizes it for its lack of "strong monologues", "powerful situations", and "dramatic conflict", but describes it as coming, like Shulamith and Bar Kokhba from "Goldfaden's best period", and writes that "under the calm of [the title character's] demeanor lay a grand power, a power he has sworn never to use unless all else failed," and characterizes this role as a model for "what I call the 'Grand Jew', that has given my life in the theater its greatest meaning."Jacob Gordin
Jacob Michailovitch Gordin (1 May 1853 – 11 June 1909) was a Russian-born American playwright active in the early years of Yiddish theater. He is known for introducing realism and naturalism into Yiddish theater.
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature characterizes him as "the acknowledged reformer of the Yiddish stage." At the time of his rise, professional Yiddish theater was still dominated by the spirit of the early (1886–1888) plays of its founder, Abraham Goldfaden, which derived in no small measure from Purim plays, often spectacles more than dramas; Goldfaden's later works were generally operettas on more serious subjects, perhaps edifying, but not naturalistic. Again quoting the Cambridge History, after his 1892 arrival in New York City, "Gordin took the Yiddish drama in America from the realm of the preposterous and put a living soul into it," bringing it up to the level of "realistic melodrama."Jacob Spivakofsky
Jacob Spivakofsky, a Russian Jew, was one of the first stars in the early years of Yiddish theater.
The highly cultured scion of a wealthy Odessa Jewish family, Spivakofsky had an academic education and was already a well-traveled young man who, by Jacob Adler's account "acted with talent and taste in Russian amateur theatricals" and "recited the poetry of Pushkin with something close to genius" (Adler, 1999, 60) when he was sent in 1877 to Bucharest, Romania as a foreign correspondent for an Odessa newspaper, to cover the Russo-Turkish War. He crossed paths with Abraham Goldfaden, who only a year earlier had founded the first professional Yiddish-language theater troupe, and abandoned journalism to become a romantic leading man.
He soon left Goldfaden's troupe along with fellow odessite Israel Rosenberg. They briefly toured (with a repertoire purloined from Goldfaden) in Moldavia, but the end of the war dried up the supply of free-spending merchants and middlemen who had briefly made Yiddish theater in Romania a prosperous enterprise. At the suggestion of Jacob Adler, they came back to Odessa, where Spivakofsky was the first leading man in Rosenberg's new Odessa-based troupe, the first professional Yiddish theater troupe in Imperial Russia. (Adler, 1999, 60, 68)Jewish Theatre, Warsaw
The Ester Rachel Kamińska and Ida Kamińska State Jewish Theater (in Polish Teatr Żydowski im. Estery Racheli i Idy Kamińskich) is a state theatrical institution in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. It was named after the Polish-Jewish actress Ester Rachel Kamińska, who was called the "mother of Yiddish theater," and her daughter, the Academy Award-nominated actress Ida Kaminska. Ida Kamińska directed the theater and acted in its productions from the time of its founding until 1968.The State Jewish Theater was formed in 1950 from two theater troupes which performed in Wrocław and Łódź in 1945-50. The theater worked in both cities over the next few years and gave guest performances across Poland. In 1955 it moved to Warsaw permanently. Since 1970 it has performed in its own building on plac Grzybowski (Grzybowski Square).Since its inception, the theater has sought to continue the rich traditions of prewar Jewish theatrical stages in Poland. Plays at the theater are shown in Polish and Yiddish (headphones with Polish translation are available).
The theater cultivates the creativity of great Jewish drama. Its repertoire features the best works by Abraham Goldfaden, Mendele-Moykher Sforim, Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Leib Peretz and Jacob Gordin.
The president of the theatre was, in the years 1970 to 2014, an actor Szymon Szurmiej.List of Romanian Jews
This is a list of Romanian Jews who are or were Jewish or of Jewish ancestry.Mark Warshawsky
Mark Markovich Warshawsky (Varshavsky) (Russian: Марк Маркович Варшавский, Yiddish: מאַרק וואַרשאַווסקי; 26 November 1848 – 1907) was a Yiddish-language folk poet and composer.Born in Odessa into an Ashkenazi Jewish family, he moved with his family as a child to Zhitomir, where he later attended the four-year state rabbinical school. After that he studied law at Odessa University for one year, then completed his studies at Kiev University, and went on to practice law in Kiev. He practiced law throughout his life, barely managing to make a living. In 1903 he moved to Belgium to work as a legal adviser for a firm there; upon falling ill in 1905, he returned to Kiev, where he died two years later.By the influence of Abraham Goldfaden Warshawsky started to write songs and sing them in his circle of friends accompanied by a fortepiano. He did not take seriously his musical work and never recorded those songs, relying on his memory. Many of his works in this way were spread throughout the Jewish community of the Ukrainian region of the Russian Empire and most of them were simply adopted as folk songs.
In 1890 Warshawsky met with Sholem Aleichem. After listening to his songs, Sholem Aleichem wrote "I simply hugged him and kissed him!" And then,
Later, by Aleichem's full cooperation, Warshawsky published his first collection, Yiddishe Volkslider (Jewish People's songs, Kiev, 1900) with a heartily foreword from the great classic. That book was republished not only in Russia, but abroad as well. The collection included such songs as Der Alef-Beis (commonly known as Oyfn Pripetshik), A Brif fun Amerike, Der Zeide mit der Babe. The songs described the everyday life of Jews in the Russian Empire.
Together Sholem Aleichem and Warshawsky started to tour around Russia performing their own repertoire. They also had plans to travel to the United States, however, those plans were left unfulfilled as Warshawsky suddenly became ill and died on November 26. The second edition of the Warshawsky's songs was published in Odessa in 1914, with the following exclusively abroad: New York (1948) and Buenos-Aires (1958).
According to Prilutsky, Warshawsky spoke in the authentic dialect spoken in Volyn.Moishe Finkel
Moishe Finkel (c. 1850 – June 7, 1904) (also known as Morris or Maurice Finkel) was a prominent figure in the early years of Yiddish theater. He was business partner first of Abraham Goldfaden and later of Sigmund Mogulesko (the greatest Yiddish star of the generation) and, for a time, was married to prima donna Annetta Schwartz. Together, they dominated Yiddish theatre in Bucharest in the early 1880s and in New York City in the late 1880s and into the 1890s, with a repertoire based mainly in the works of Joseph Lateiner and Moses Horowitz.After divorcing Schwartz, who returned to Europe, Finkel, then in his 40s, married 16-year-old Emma Thomashefsky, sister of one of the most powerful figures in Yiddish theatre, Boris Thomashefsky. They had two children, but their relationship was always troubled and eventually Emma Finkel left her husband and began divorce proceedings. Her suit mentioned examples of spousal cruelty including violence. She began a relationship with another actor, David Levinson. At the same time, Moishe Finkel's business partnership with Jacob Adler, which entailed managing the Grand Theatre together, ended with a bitter dispute and a legal battle for control of the theatre eventually settled in Adler's favor. Emma Finkel and her lover had continued working for Adler.On June 7, 1904, while Emma, the children and Levinson were staying at a summer colony in New Jersey, Finkel turned up unexpectedly and shot his wife, Levinson, and himself. He killed himself and seriously injured his wife. Levinson was unhurt.Jacob Adler wrote of him that he "never smiled" and other contemporaneous accounts concur that he had a difficult personality. Finkel's son from his first marriage, Abem Finkel, became a Hollywood scriptwriter. The children from his marriage to Emma, Bella and Lucy Finkel, became Yiddish actors. Bella married Paul Muni. Emma Thomashefsky Finkel lived partially paralyzed for a number of years, and continued to act in roles that could be played sitting down. She died of complications from her condition in 1929 at age 46.Ni-be-ni-me-ni-cucurigu
Ni-be-ni-me-ni-cucurigu is an 1878 play by Abraham Goldfaden. The somewhat nonsensical Yiddish title is variously translated as Not Me, Not You, Not Cock-a-Doodle-Doo or Neither This, Nor That, nor Kukerikoo; Lulla Rosenfeld says it had an alternate title The Struggle of Culture with Fanaticism. The title comes from a Russian expression "ни бе, ни ме, ни кукареку", meaning to understand nothing on the subject.
The play itself is lost. The plot centered on a cobbler who becomes a rabbi. Jacob Adler wrote of it that "this thin idea had been dressed out with so much stolen music that it was shameful to hear", but Lulla Rosenfeld, writing from a distance of over a century, argues that its combination of a "serious theme with an amusing nonsense plot" was emblematic of early Yiddish theater. "This emphasis on education, progress, enlightenment," she writes, "is found nowhere else in the popular comedy and melodrama of the nineteenth century. It is special to the Yiddish theater, which was, even from the beginning, a theater of ideas."On Second Avenue
On Second Avenue is a Yiddish American musical theatre production which looks back at the heyday of Yiddish Theater, especially in the Yiddish Theater District in Manhattan's Lower East Side on Second Avenue.
The original 1987 production opened at the Norman Thomas Theater on the Lower East Side, and a revival produced in 2005 by the Folksbiene opened on the Upper West Side. Both productions were off-Broadway. The revue was put together by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld as a sequence of skits, and songs with dialogue in English and songs in Yiddish. The revue features songs from Yiddish theatre greats like Abraham Goldfaden. The original cast was led by Mary Soreanu and the revival cast by Mike Burstyn to critical acclaim. The revival was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards for 2005 - Best Revival for Folksbiene, and Outstanding Actor for Mike Burstyn.
Two Yiddish music albums by the same name were released by Jan Peerce in 1964 (the album is actually called On 2nd Avenue), and by the Hester Street Troupe - but they have no relation to the show.Raisins and Almonds
"Raisins and Almonds" (Yiddish: ראָזשינקעס מיט מאַנדלען, Rozhinkes mit Mandlen) is a traditional Jewish lullaby popularized in the arrangement by Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908) for his 1880 Yiddish musical, "Shulamis". It has become so well known that it has assumed the status of a classic folk song. It has been recorded as both a vocal and instrumental by many artists over the years, including Itzhak Perlman, Chava Alberstein, Benita Valente, and Ella Jenkins. It is a common lullaby among Ashkenazi European Jews (Ashkenazim). This song has multiple translations and multiple versions, which have slight changes in both Yiddish and English lyrics. One verse of the song appears in the Herman Wouk novel War and Remembrance in Yiddish as well as an English translation, and also in the TV miniseries based on the book.Shmendrik
Shmendrik, oder Die komishe Chaseneh (Schmendrik or The Comical Wedding) is an 1877 comedy by Abraham Goldfaden, one of the earliest and most enduring pieces in Yiddish theater. The title role of Shmendrik was originally written for the young Sigmund Mogulesko, and derived from a character Mogulesko did when auditioning for Goldfaden earlier that year. The role was later famously played by actress Molly Picon.
The play is loosely based on an earlier Romanian language play, Vlăduţu Mamei (Mama's Boy), transferred to a setting in a family of Hasidic Jews, a milieu that was a standard butt of humor among the "enlightened" Jews of the Haskalah.
The secondary title is a pun on The Chymical Wedding, one of the major works of Johannes Valentinus Andreae (1586–1654), a founding work of Rosicrucianism.
According to Jacob Adler, the play was such a sensation that a year after it was first performed in Bucharest, when Israel Rosenberg set about presenting it as the second play of his newly formed Yiddish theater troupe in Odessa, "Shmendrik" had already passed into the Yiddish language, both as a term of affection and derision, but also as slang for a sneeze, for money, and for the police.Shulamith
Shulamis (שולמית) or Shulamit is the feminine form of the Hebrew name Solomon (in Hebrew, "Shlomo", שְלמה), related to the word "shalom" (שָׁלוֹם), or "peace". See Salome (disambiguation). "Shula" is a shortened form.
The name Salome is also a related form. See also: he:שולמית
Shulamith may also refer to:
Shulamith School for Girls
Shulamith, a play by Abraham Goldfaden
Shulamith (cat), the cat that founded the American Curl breed
Shulamith (album), the 2013 album by PoliçaSokher Goldstein
Sokher Goldstein (c.1859–1887), first name also spelled Suher, Soher, Socher, or Sukher, was a singer and actor, one of the founding performers in Yiddish theater. A Jew, presumably of Ukrainian or Romanian origin, nothing is known about his life before Abraham Goldfaden recruited him in Iaşi in 1876 as the second actor after Israel Grodner for what became the first professional Yiddish theater troupe.
Goldstein participated in the performance at Gradina Pomul Verde ("the Green Fruit-Tree Garden") that is often accounted the first professional Yiddish theater performance. Most likely, the piece by Goldfaden that was performed was a semi-improvised vaudeville called Dos Bintl Holts, "The Bundle of Wood". Goldstein participated in a tour with Goldfaden to Botoşani, Galaţi, Brăila, and finally Bucharest, where the troupe settled for about two years.
According to Joel Berkowitz, "[his] boyish face landed him all the women’s roles until the troupe took on its first actress a few months later." [Berkowitz, 2004, 12] That actress was the young Sara Segal, whom he met and married in Galaţi (upon marriage, she took the name Sofia Goldstein; after his death, she remarried and became famous as Sofia Karp). (See Sophia Karp for more about the marriage.)
In Bucharest, he performed for Goldfaden and other theater directors.
He died of tuberculosis. [Adler, 1999, 86 (commentary)]The Flying Matchmaker
The Flying Matchmaker (also: Two Kuni Lemel, Shnei Kuni Leml or שני קוני למל) is a 1966 Israeli film musical directed by Israel Becker. The story is based on the 1880 Yiddish play Di tsvey Kuni-lemels by Abraham Goldfaden. The film was the first major success on screen for lead actor Mike Burstyn who has a double role as Kuni Leml and his cousin Max, and also casts his father Pesach Burstein in a small role. The film was selected as the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 39th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.The Sorceress (Di Kishefmakhern)
The Witch of Botoşani or simply The Witch or The Sorceress (original Yiddish title Di Kishefmakhern) was an 1878, or possibly 1877, play by Abraham Goldfaden. Like most of Goldfaden's major works, it included music.
The play was based on popular superstition; Goldfaden would later remark, "I wrote Di kishefmakhern (The Witch) in Romania, where the populace – Jews as much as Romanians – believe strongly in witches." [Bercovici, 1998] The title role, a female character, was written to be played by a man; it was first played by Israel Grodner. The play survived into a far different era of Yiddish theater: Maurice Schwartz played it at New York City's Yiddish Art Theater in 1925. [Adler, 1999, 107 (commentary)]
Jacob Adler made his 1878 stage debut in the role of the lover Marcus, in a production in Kherson, Ukraine, in which Israel Rosenberg played the title role. [Adler, 1999, 107]Todros, Blow
Todros, Blow or Todres the Trombonist (original Yiddish title Todros, Blos or Todres, Bloz) was an 1878 light comedic play by Abraham Goldfaden, now lost. The story centers around a man living beyond his means who has ordered his servant, Todros, to blow a trombone whenever one of his creditors approaches.
Writing his memoirs some 40 years later, Jacob Adler recalled seeing it as a young man, only a few months into his own acting career. He describes it as "a foolish comedy [translated] from the German" and adds that at the time he first saw it in Odessa, Ukraine, he, well versed in Russian theater, viewed it as an example the shortcomings of the then-nascent Yiddish theater: "Why if we must steal, I asked myself, must it always be something old and stale? Gogol's Inspector General is also about a young man with debts."