Jewish Studies Yiddish Avant-garde Theater
by
Diego Rotman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0221

Introduction

Inspired by contemporaneous modernist artistic and literary movements, groups of Jewish writers and artists coalesced in Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia during the first two decades of the 20th century. The influence of modernism on theater, poetry, literature, music, dance, and plastic arts was reflected in the works produced by these Jewish artists, who subsequently took the new trends with them to other lands, especially the Americas (Jewish Aspects in Avant-Garde, cited under General Overviews). They sought to challenge both artistic language and Jewish literature, developing new, even revolutionary, means of expression in Yiddish, Hebrew, or the vernacular spoken in their surroundings (Challenging the Literary Community: The Warsaw Yiddish Avant-Garde and Khalyastre, cited under General Overviews). Many of those groups launched independent frameworks to disseminate their works: some organized readings and exhibitions or even established journals in which they published literary works, manifests, and reproductions of the works of art created by their members. Among these platforms were Eygns (Kiev, 1918–1920) edited by Dovid Bergelson; Yung-Yidish (Yung-Idish; Łódź, 1919–1921); Albatros (Warsaw, 1922; Berlin, 1923), and Khalyastre (Warsaw, 1922; Paris, 1924) (The Albatrosses of Young Yiddish Poetry: An Idea and Its Visual Realization in Uri Zvi Greenberg’s Albatros, cited under General Overviews). Some of these innovative Jewish writers, poets, theater directors, musicians, and visual artists took part in the development of a modernist and sometimes avant-garde Jewish theater (Authenticity and Modernism Combined: Music and the Visual Arts, cited under General Overviews). The “slippery” and fluid concept of Jewish avant-garde theater can be defined as theatrical projects created by Jews for a mainly Jewish audience that were influenced, aesthetically or ideologically, by historical avant-garde movements (such as the International Dada in Zurich, German expressionism, Italian and Russian futurism, and Russian constructivism and suprematism), movements that made radical aesthetic innovations in form and content. Such projects developed or attempted to develop a Jewish theatrical aesthetic that would subvert or provoke a break with popular Yiddish theater and the bourgeois style dominant in the contemporaneous Yiddish and Jewish theater scenes. These influences were evident in various aspects of the Yiddish stage: stage design and actors’ makeup (for example, the Vilner trupe’s Dybbuk, see Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theater, and the Art of Itinerancy, cited under General Overviews), in the representation of space (Yung-Yiddish breaking the fourth wall), in the design of visual materials (the playbills of Ararat or the Vilner trupe designed by Berlewi or Swarc, see Visual Artists and Yiddish Avant-garde Theatre in Poland and The Yiddish Stage as a Temporary Home—Dzigan and Shumacher’s Satirical Theater (1927–1980), both cited under General Overviews), and, of course, in the texts themselves (for example, Moyshe Broderzon’s texts, see Moyshe Broderzon: Un écrivain yiddish d’avant-garde, cited under General Overviews). This article, which focuses on Yiddish avant-garde theater in the interwar period, refers to the major figures who contributed to the development of these avant-garde aesthetics or approaches in different fields and ends with references to avant-garde approaches in Yiddish performance today. Accordingly, it considers Jewish avant-garde theater as a broad topic, one that includes an elastic and transnational corpus of varying quality that was characterized by a common attempt to reflect or express a contentious approach (or an alternative) to mainstream Jewish theater.

General Overviews

Poets, visual artists, musicians, choreographers, theater actors, and directors all contributed to Jewish avant-garde theater, which developed various approaches in different places, in a range of languages, under an array of material, political, and economic conditions, and was influenced by various movements: Russian constructivism, German expressionism, French cubism, and Polish modernism, among others. In order to delineate the qualities of Jewish avant-garde theater, it is necessary to employ a more fluid distinction between radical avant-garde and modernism. Likewise, we must also differentiate between the Jewish avant-garde in Eastern Europe, which was interested in radically breaking with traditional Judaism and was active in creating a national culture—developing secular art and a secular nation—and Jewish avant-garde in the West, which also functioned as way to return to Jewish tradition. There are no monographs discussing Jewish avant-garde theater per se. However, various scholars have examined Jewish avant-garde literature and the visual arts, and a rich corpus of articles and even books on these aspects emerged mainly over the last three decades. Books, articles, and book chapters refer to various Jewish theater companies, theatrical figures, or visual artists who worked in Jewish theater and who, even if they did not define themselves as belonging to the historical avant-garde or to the experimental theater of their time, were sometimes framed as avant-garde or related to those movements by scholars.

  • Brenner, Michael. “Authenticity and Modernism Combined: Music and the Visual Arts.” In The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany. By Michael Brenner, 153–184. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    This chapter provides an important contribution concerning modernist Jewish music and visual arts in Weimar Germany. It offers information about specific artists and theater companies that performed in Weimar Germany (the avant-garde Vilner trupe was based in Berlin between September 1921 and March 1923, GOSET toured Germany in 1928, and the Hebrew Habima Theater first toured in Germany in 1926; the local Kaftan cabaret was established in 1930). The book also includes reproductions of works of art.

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  • Caplan, Debra. Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theater, and the Art of Itinerancy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.9533320Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Caplan’s book is the first comprehensive historiography concerning this important transnational Yiddish theater troupe. It discusses the emergence of the Vilner trupe within the context of Yiddish theater, characterizing it as an avant-garde company, and examines its performances, successes, and failures. The book is based on a wide range of sources that provide an excellent overview of this troupe and its members.

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  • Gelber, Mark H., and Sami Sjöberg. Jewish Aspects in Avant-Garde. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110454956Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This book provides important insights regarding the significance of avant-garde movements for modern Jewish culture and the impact of Jewish tradition on the artistic production of the avant-garde. The book deals in particular with the Jewish Dada approach; Yiddish avant-garde movements in Warsaw, Romania, and the USSR; and discusses literary, artistic, philosophical, and theological works.

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  • Lipsker, Avidov, and Ruth Bar-Ilan. “The Albatrosses of Young Yiddish Poetry: An Idea and Its Visual Realization in Uri Zvi Greenberg’s Albatros.” Prooftexts 15.1 (1995): 89–108.

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    This article discusses the poetics and visualization of Uri Zvi Greenberg’s iconic Albatros journal. It also refers to the work of other visual artists, such as Marek Szwarc (Schwarz) and Henryk Berlewi, who were central figures in the development of the Yiddish avant-garde stage.

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  • Malkin, Jeanette, and Freddie Rokem. Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010.

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    The book includes a series of essays regarding the role of Jewish artists such as Max Reinhardt and Leopold Jessner in the development of modernist and avant-garde German theater.

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  • Tordjman, Laëtitia. “Challenging the Literary Community: The Warsaw Yiddish Avant-Garde and Khalyastre.” In Jewish Aspects in Avant-Garde. Edited by Mark H. Gelber and Sami Sjöberg, 85–100. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110454956-007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This work discusses and analyzes avant-garde Yiddish poetry by Perets Markish, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, and Melech Ravitsh published in the avant-garde Yiddish journal Khalyastre (Warsaw, 1922; Paris, 1924) edited by Perets Markish. In the article Tordjman refers to how Yiddish avant-garde theater influenced Yiddish literature, specifically examining the influence of the performance of The Dybbuk by the Vilner trupe on one of Markish’s poems.

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  • Quint, Alyssa. “Visual Artists and Yiddish Avant-garde Theatre in Poland.” Digital Yiddish Theatre Project, June 2018.

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    In this significant article, Alyssa Quint tackles the work of avant-garde visual artists who collaborated with Jewish theater companies, such as Władysław Weintraub (Chaim Wolf Wajntrojb, b. 1891–d. 1942), Yoysef Shlivniak (b. 1899 in Kiev), Zygmunt Balk (b. 1873–d. 1941), Fritz Klaynman (b. 1896), Dina Matus (b. 1895–d. 1940?), and Mané Katz (b. 1894–d. 1962), among others. The article is based on a wide range of important sources and includes interesting images.

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  • Rotman, Diego. The Yiddish Stage as a Temporary Home—Dzigan and Shumacher’s Satirical Theater (1927–1980). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110717693Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Rotman’s book surveys the creation of the Lodzer Teater Studio, founded by modernist Yiddish poet Moyshe Broderzon, and the history of the kleynkunst-bine (miniature theater) Ararat (acronym for Artistisher revolutsyonerer teater, or Artistic and Revolutionary Theater).

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  • Rozier, Gilles. Moyshe Broderzon: Un écrivain yiddish d’avant-garde. Saint-Denis, France: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1999.

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    The book is an important contribution to the study of modernist Yiddish poet Moyshe Broderzon’s literary works. It also discusses the Ararat theater, which Broderzon founded, from historical and literary perspectives. The book focuses on Broderzon’s life and his literary output, examines how Vladimir Mayakovsky and Velimir Khlebnikov influenced Broderzon, his collaborations in Moscow with Yoysef Tshaykov, Yisakhar Rybak, and El Lissitzky, among others, and in Łódź with Yitskhok (or Vincenti) Broyner, Yankl Adler, and Marek Szwarc.

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Yididsh Avant-garde Theater Troupes

Yiddish was the dominant Jewish vernacular in Eastern Europe as the avant-garde movements emerged at the end of the 19th century and in the first three decades of the 20th century. Yiddish was also the language in which modern Jewish theater developed. Thus, it was only natural that in Eastern Europe and Russia, as well as in the Yiddish transnational diaspora, a Jewish avant-garde theater would develop mainly in the Jewish vernacular as well as in the reborn Hebrew language (in theaters such as Habima). Yiddish avant-garde theater started to develop at the outset of the 20th century, as Jewish national movements were growing, increasing numbers of Jews were breaking with Jewish tradition, and many were searching for a new and modern Jewish identity, as well as a national language, all under a wide range of ideological influences. It also developed under the influence of the historical avant-garde movements and as a reaction against the popular, commercial, and often vulgar theater that critics, scholars, and artists referred to as shund theater (literally “trash theater”). Interestingly, Yiddish avant-garde theater developed in different lands, and examples include GOSET in Moscow, Ararat in Łódź, and Yung Argentine in Buenos Aires. All these companies developed different aesthetic and ideological approaches to what can be called the Jewish avant-garde. Sometimes the avant-garde approach was more evident in visual aspects of the theater (scenography or billboards) than in the actual performances. The following references are a point of departure for further research on the topic.

GOSET (Moscow, 1920–1949)

GOSET (acronym of its Russian name, Gosudarstvennyi Evreiskii Teatr), or as it was known in Yiddish, the Moskver melukhisher yidisher teater (The Moscow State Jewish Theater), was founded in Moscow in 1920 by Aleksandr Granovskii. It developed from the Jewish Chamber Theater that Granovskii had founded in 1919 in St. Petersburg. Already in his first theater company, Granovskii staged Yiddish symbolist plays by Sholem Asch and Shloyme Mikhoels as well as translations of foreign language works into Yiddish, for example by Maurice Maeterlinck. GOSET would later stage works by modernist Russian and European playwrights in Yiddish translation, as well as works by classic playwrights such as William Shakespeare and adaptations of Yiddish writers such as A. Vayter (Isaac Meir Devenishky), Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch, and Avrom Goldfaden. In 1928, during a European tour, Granovskii defected to Germany and the actor Shloyme Mikholes became the new theater director. He introduced into the theater’s repertoire Soviet Jewish writers whose works dealt with contemporary topics, bringing a contemporary and modernistic approach to Yiddish theater. The unique aesthetics developed by GOSET characterized the new Jewish modernistic and avant-garde theater, revisiting the Yiddish classics in adapted versions together with the works of contemporary playwrights. Its staging was influenced by Vladslav Meyerhold’s biomechanics and Max Reinhardt’s style, combining avant-garde approaches to theater culture such as Russian constructivism with motifs and symbols from Jewish culture and Jewish folk life. As such, it created a unique avant-garde Yiddish aesthetic that presented a new theatrical Jewish tradition, breaking with the theatrical past, meaning the theater tradition of popular, melodramatic, and shund theater that had dominated the Yiddish stage since the end of the 19th century in the theater troupes managed by Moyshe Fiszon, Avrom Goldfadn, and Yoysef Lateiner, among others. The work of artist Marc Chagall in the theater’s first production is an example of that approach, and it significantly influenced the future aesthetics of the company. Isaac Rabinovich later became the new art director, replacing Chagall. He was responsible for introducing the influence of the Russian constructivism. GOSET was at once a means to enforce and define a modern, socialist Jewish identity and an instrument of the government. The theater was liquidated by state decree in December 1949.

  • Harshav, Benjamin, and Barbara Harshav. The Moscow Yiddish Theater: Art on Stage in the Time of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    A very important book regarding GOSET, the Jewish body, Jewish cultural politics, and the avant-garde aesthetic that characterized the company in its first decade. The book includes rich visual materials, among them reproductions of Marc Chagall’s contributions to the theater.

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  • Picon-Vallin, Béatrice. Le théâtre juif soviétique pendant les années vingt. Lausanne, Switzerland: L’Age d’homme, 1973.

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    This monograph, one of the first on the topic, contextualizes GOSET and the Russian years of the Hebrew Habima theater company, with a clear focus on GOSET’s central role in Jewish theater. Picon-Vallin analyzes the role of carnival in the Soviet Yiddish theater and compares and contextualizes the performances of both Jewish theaters in the frame of contemporaneous Russian and Soviet theater productions.

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  • Schedrin, Vassili. “Dva ‘Stroitelia.’ Simvolizm i avangard v dramaturgii rannikh postanovok Evreiskogo Kamernogo Teatra.” In Natsional’nyi teatr v kontekste mnogonatsional’noi kul’tury. Arkhivy, biblioteki, informatsiia. Edited by Ada Aronovna Kolganova, 67–76. Moscow: Novoe izdatel’stvo, 2014.

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    In his article, Vassili Schedrin discusses a previously unknown one-act symbolist theater piece written by Shloyme Mikhoels, an actor and later the director of the GOSET. The piece, presented in Granovskii’s theater studio in 1919, is a unique document of Mikhoels’s writing, interests, and approach to theater at that time.

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  • Shayn, Yosef. Arum Moskver Yiddishn Teater. Paris: Poliglot, 1964.

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    In this book (Around the Moscow Yiddish theater), a primary source for the study of GOSET, Yosef Shayn, who was a member of the company, presents a unique and fascinating glimpse into some of the theater’s most important productions. He also outlines Granovskii’s and Mikhoel’s working methods.

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  • Veidlinger, Jeffrey. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    A comprehensive study of GOSET based on Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew sources. It analyzes the theater’s productions and theatrical and cultural politics, contextualizing the company within the totalitarian politics that influenced its content and art. Veidlinger describes and analyzes the theater’s performances, its repertoire, and the sociopolitical changes that affected its productions, its content, and its aesthetics.

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  • Vovsi-Mikhoels, Natalia. Mon père Salomon Mikhoëls: Souvenirs sur sa vie et sur sa mort. Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990.

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    Solomon Mikhoels’ daughter chronicles, including numerous anecdotes, the life and work of her father, the Soviet Yiddish actor, director, and de facto leader of the Soviet Jewish community. Vovis-Mikholes discusses the public reception of GOSET and of various different plays. She also analyzes the controversy that surrounded Mikhoels’s death and provides unique documents concerning her father’s life.

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  • Zuskin Perelman, Ala. The Travels of Benjamin Zuskin. Translated by Sharon Blass. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2015.

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    The book is a unique account concerning the life and death of one of the most celebrated actors of GOSET, written by his daughter and based on extensive archival work. Zuskin was executed by Stalin’s regime in August 1952. The book includes Zuskin’s few writings, personal letters, and many photographs. It also provides an excellent bibliography of primary sources in Russian, secondary sources in English, and a foreword by the historian Morderchai Altshuler. Original Russian: Путешествие Вениамина: размышления о жизни, творчестве и судьбе еврейского актера Вениамина Зускина (2002).

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Vilner trupe (Vilna, Warsaw, 1915–1935)

The Vilner trupe (Vilna Troupe) was founded in Vilna in 1915 (it was originally known as Fareyn fun Yidishe Dramatishe Artistn, Union of Yiddish Dramatic Artists, or FADA) by a group of mostly amateur actors who aimed to create a Yiddish artistic theater. They were inspired by the Moscow Art Theater founded by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. In September 1917, the company relocated and became known as the Vilner trupe. This troupe was an amalgam of different contemporaneous aesthetic movements, a result of the rich and diverse influences exerted on the theater by stage directors, visual artists, musicians, and actors, all of whom were interested in creating a modern and sometimes even avant-garde Yiddish theater. The significant influences on this theater include Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theater, Max Reinhardt’s directorial style, the avant-garde Polish theater, the symbolist aesthetic developed by Gordon Craig and Adolphe Appia, Russian constructivism, and other modernist styles and genres. The major and most influential work staged by the company was the first ever performance of Sh. An-ski’s The Dybbuk in 1920, directed by Dovid Herman. This was one of the most vibrant examples of Yiddish avant-garde theater. The troupe’s repertoire included works by Yiddish writers such and playwrights such as Sholem Aleichem, Dovid Bergelson, Sh. An-ski, Yankev Preger, Sholem Asch, Leon Kobrin, Jacob Gordin, and Dovid Pinski, together with translations of Russian, European, and even American authors such as Aleksei Tolstoy, Gerhard Hauptmann, Maxim Gorki, Eugene O’Neill, and others. Among the visual artists who collaborated with the troupe were the modernists Henryk Berlewi, Władysław Weintraub, Andrzej Pronaszko, and Szymon Syrkus. Likewise, various musicians worked with the troupe, among them Henekh Kon and Jozef Kaminski. Lia Rotbaum and Adam Graber were among the choreographers, and Micahal Weichert, Dovid Herman, and Jakub Rotbaum served as theater directors.

  • Caplan, Debra. Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe, Jewish Theater, and the Art of Itinerancy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.9533320Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Caplan’s book is the first comprehensive historiography of this important transnational Yiddish theater troupe. The monograph has a companion website in which the author visualizes the artists’ networks—the connections between the troupe members and related figures associated with it. In the chapter devoted to the production of The Dybbuk, as directed by Herman Caplan, refers to avant-garde elements of the performance and directorial style, locating the Vilner trupe in the tradition of the European avant-garde.

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  • Mickutė, Jolanta. “The Vilner trupe, 1916–30: A Transformation of Shund Theater—For the Sake of National Politics or High Art?” Jewish Social Studies 22.3 (2017): 98–135.

    DOI: 10.2979/jewisocistud.22.3.04Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article deals with the sociopolitical context in which the Vilner trupe developed, reflects on the company’s role in the dialogue about the identity of Yiddish theater, its fluctuation between high art and popular theater, and the role of the company as a forum for debates about Jewish national politics.

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  • Zer-Zion, Shelly. “The Birth of Habima and the Yiddish Art Theatre Movement.” In Jewish Theatre: Tradition in Transition and Intercultural Vistas. Edited by Ahuva Belkin, 73–88. Tel Aviv: Assaph, 2008.

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    Zer-Zion contextualizes the birth of the Hebrew Habima Theater in the larger framework of Jewish theater, referring to the Vilner trupe as the first Jewish avant-garde theater company in the history of modern Jewish theater, anticipating Habima.

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Vykt—Varshever yidisher kunst-teater (First Vykt 1924–1925, Second Vykt 1926–1928, Third Vykt 1938–1939)

Zygmunt Turkow, founder and director of the Varshever yidisher kunst-teater (the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theater), defined Vykt as a European theater performing in the Yiddish language. It staged plays from the European repertoire (for example works by Moliere, Alexander Ostrovsky, Leonid Andreev, Romain Rolland, Victor Hugo), Jewish classics (plays by Goldfaden, Ettinger, Sholem Aleichem), and a new repertoire (Sholem Asch, Dovid Pinski). Its performances were staged in a “European style” and at the same time included references to Jewish folklore. Various modernist artists collaborated with the company, among them the poet Moyshe Broderzon and set designers Moyshe (or Maurycy) Apelboym, Józef Śliwniak, and Władysław Weintraub. Turkow’s style was influenced by different trends, including but not limited to suprematism, Russian constructivism, and cubism.

  • Bułat, Mirosława M. “‘Cosmopolitan’ or ‘Purely Jewish?’: Zygmunt Turkow and the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theatre.” In Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business. Edited by Joel Berkowitz and Barbara Henry, 116–134. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012.

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    Bułat’s article discusses the European and Jewish influences on Turkow’s adaptation of the classic Yiddish playwrights. The paper also touches upon the reception of his theatrical approach and some of the pieces staged by VYKT.

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  • Stern, Zehavit. “The Archive, the Repertoire, and Jewish Theatre: Zygmunt Turkow Performs a National Dramatic Heritage.” Skenè: Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies 6.2 (2020): 71–89.

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    Stern examines Turkow’s staging of Serkele by Solomon Ettinger and Der priziv by Sh. Y. Abramovitsh as examples of Turkow’s approach to the “archive” and the “repertoire.” She draws attention to his attempt to create a notion of cultural and national continuity, a sense of belonging to a theatrical tradition. Stern discusses how various modernist tendencies shaped his style, in particular Meyerhold’s influence on Turkow’s staging of Der Priziv.

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Yung-teater (Warsaw 1932–1937; Nay-teater, Vilna 1937–1939)

The Yung-teater (Young Theater), was a modernist and avant-garde Yiddish theater founded by Michael Weichert (b. 1890–d. 1967) in Warsaw in 1932. It developed from Weichert’s Teater Sudio, which he first founded in 1922 upon his return from theatrical studies under Max Reinhardt in Berlin (and founded for a second time in 1929). The theater studio and Yung-teater staged plays by Jewish authors such as Y. L. Peretz, Peretz Hirschbein, Leyb Malakh, and Kadia Molodowsky, as well as plays by European modernist playwrights such as Ernst Toller, Georg Buchner, and others. The productions employed a range of styles and genres, ranging from expressionist through grotesque and realist to documental. One of the main avant-garde approaches was related to the use of space and the new approach to the relations between actors and public under the influence of Reinhardt’s “chamber theater” (Kammerspiel) and Vsevolod Meyerhold’s (b, 1874–d. 1940) “conditional theater” concept and the division between actors and audience. Major Jewish musicians collaborated with the theater, among them Henekh Kon and Lev Pulver, as well as visual artists such as Władysław Weintraub and Szymon Syrkus, who created the costumes, sets, and playbills. Weichert and Jakub Rotbaum (Yankev Rotboym) were among the theater directors. Yung-teater not only brought together the influences of the experimental and modernist European theater in terms of form and aesthetics, but also contended with issues of social justice, human liberation, and political affairs. Yung-teater moved to Vilna in 1937 and continued working there as Nay-teater (New Theater).

  • Glikson, Yosef. “Yung-teater.” In Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes. Vol. 1, Poyln. Edited by Itsik Manger, Yonas Turkov (Jonas Turkow), and Moyshe Perenson, 127–147. New York: Altveltlekher yidisher kultur kongres, 1968.

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    Glikson, himself an actor in the Yung-teater company, discusses from his unique perspective how the theater sought to present a Yiddish and European repertoire dealing with contemporary topics. In his article he also refers to the ideological background and the company’s social commitment.

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  • Rubel, Elinor. “Lahaḳat ha ‘Yung-teater.’” MA diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1990.

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    This is the first in-depth account of the history and repertoire of the Yung-teater company. As an MA thesis, it draws extensively on archival materials and also analyzes the reception of the company in the Yiddish press.

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  • Veidlinger Jeffrey. “From Boston to Mississippi.” In Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage: Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business. Edited by Joel Berkowitz, and Barbara Henry, 136–159. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012.

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    Based on Weichert’s memoirs and other primary and secondary sources, Veidlinger discusses the Yung-teater and Michael Weichert’s directorial style. He describes the theater’s main productions, contextualizing its practice in the relevant historical and social contexts. The article offers an in-depth analysis of Boston (1933), one of the company’s most important productions, which was based on a drama written by the German author Bernahard Blume concerning the Sacco and Vanzetti affair.

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Yung Argentine (Buenos Aires, 1926–1931)

Yung Argentine (Young Argentine), a modernist Yiddish theater group, was founded and directed by Yakov Botoshansky, Leib Malach, and N. Tsuker. The theater staged works by European and Russian playwrights such as the expressionist German playwright Ernst Toller, adaptations of Friedrich Schiller and Maxim Gorki, and works by contemporary Yiddish authors such as Leyb Malakh, Sholem Aleichem, Der Tunkeler, Avraham Reizen, Y. L. Peretz, and Manuel Zh. The first production was Leib Melach’s Di Ludmirer Moyd. In 1927, Leon Halpern became the director of the company, developing a drama school. After Halpern’s dismissal, Iliya Riss continued as director, later succeeded by Shmuel Glazerman. A range of figures, including Issakhar Varan, Shmuel Zolotnitski, Herman Lester (later a professional actor), Y. Milstein, Chaim Sokolovski, Aaron Pintshuk, Moshe Rekhes, Rukhl Weinstein, Freida London, Rivka London, Shifra Kleinburd, Chana Shichman, Yehoshua Bonopolski, Ethel Koduner, and Y. Auerbach, were involved in the theater.

  • Markenson, C. Tova. “Jewish Immigrant Theatre and the Argentinean Avant-Gardes: The Case of Ibergus in 1926 Buenos Aires.” Modern Drama 63.4 (2020): 455–476.

    DOI: 10.3138/md.63.4.1059Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In her article, Markenson focuses on the production of Ibergus by Leib Malakh, discussing not only theatrical matters but also the social implications of the Jewish theater in Argentina, which was dominated by Jewish pimps during the first decades of the 20th century. Markenson frames the discussion of Ibergus and the theater in the wider discourse about the Argentinean avant-garde theater, at the same time questioning the pioneering role ascribed to Ibergus by scholars and critics as a discourse provoked by Botoshanky himself.

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Pyat—Parizer yidisher avangard teater (Paris, 1935–1940; Paris, 1945–1950)

The Parizer yidisher avangard teater (Parisian Yiddish Avant-garde Theater, Pyat) was a modernist Yiddish theater established in 1935 (it was first established in 1934 under the name Parisian Yiddish Workers’ Theater). The main figures behind this theater were members of the Vilner trupe who arrived in Paris, among them Dovid Licht, Avrom-Yankev (Jakob) Mansdorf, Yankev Kurlender, and the director Jacob Rotbaum.

  • Underwood, Nick. “The Yiddish Art Theatre in Paris after the Holocaust, 1944–1950.” Theatre Survey 61.3 (2020): 351–371.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0040557420000277Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The article surveys the renewal and short life of Pyat in 1945. Underwood analyzes some of the pieces performed, re-stagings of previous performances, its connections to the prewar company, and mostly the role of the company in building the communal memory of the Holocaust and events in Vichy. Underwood also discusses the theater’s redefinition as an art theater rather than an avant-garde theater.

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Artef—Arbeter teater farband (New York, 1925–1940)

The Arbeter teater farband (Workers’ Theater Society, Artef) began as a politically radical Yiddish workers’ theater and over the years developed into a major American Yiddish theater company. Established in 1925 as a proletarian theatrical organization affiliated with the Jewish section of the American Communist movement, in 1934 the company moved to Broadway and continued to perform until 1940.

  • Nahshon, Edna. Yiddish Proletarian Theatre: The Art and Politics of the Artef, 1925–1940. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

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    Edan Nahshon’s book presents a rich and detailed linear and historical account of the theater based on primary sources. She discusses the cultural, sociological, ideological, and political contexts in which the company operated. The book analyzes various productions, their reception in the press, all on the background of the ideological framework in which Artef developed. Nahshon also discusses the reception of the company by non-Jewish audiences.

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  • Schechter, Joel. “Messiahs of 1933: Radical Yiddish Theatre at Artef (a Speculative Theatre History).” Studies in Theatre and Performance 25.1 (2005): 79–82.

    DOI: 10.1386/stap.25.1.79/0Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The essay concerns how playwright Moyshe Nadir and Artef handled the Great Depression, envisioning a future of full employment and justice in a Yiddish satire about “Messianic capitalism.”

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Undzer Teater (New York, 1923–1926)

Undzer Teater (Our Theater) was founded in the Bronx, New York, in 1923, by Peretz Hirshbein, Dovid Pinski, H. Leivik, and Mendl Elkin. Among its members were Miriam Elias (formerly of Habima Theater), Chaim Shneer, and Bella Ballerina. The project included the creation of a dramatic studio and a journal (later named Tealit). Among the works the company staged was Y. L. Peretz’s Day and Night. One of the most fascinating aspects of this theater was the sets designed and created by Boris Aronson, one of the most prominent Jewish stage designers working for the Yiddish theater in New York. He introduced avant-garde Russian constructivism and a form of cubism into the American Yiddish stage.

  • Aronson, Arnold. “Yiddish Theater and the Transformation of American Design.’” In New York’s Yiddish Theater. Edited by Edna Nahshon, 194–221. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

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    Arnold Aronson’s contribution discusses the unprecedented and influential aesthetic of the art of his father, Boris Aronson, in the New York Yiddish theater. He refers to his father’s early days at Undzer Teater and expands on his collaborations with Maurice Schwartz’s Art Theater. The article includes important reproductions of Aronson’s sketches and works.

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Yidish kunst teater (New York)

The Yidish kunst teater (Yiddish Art Theater) was a prolific New York City–based company founded by the Yiddish actor and manager Maurice Schwartz. The company attempted to develop a high-quality repertoire, differentiating itself from the popular American Yiddish theater, which was referred to as shund. Schwartz was the main figure, but many of the main actors in the Yiddish theater appeared with him, among them Jacob Ben-Ami, Celia Adler, Stella Adler, and Jacob Buloff. The company was well received by the local and international press, including the New York Times. Schwartz also collaborated with major composers and visual artists, who introduced a modernistic style into the theater, in particular Boris Aronson.

  • Nahshon, Edna. “Maurice Schwartz and the Yiddish Art Theater Movement.” In New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway. Edited by Edna Nahshon, 150–171. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

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    This chapter is devoted to Maurice Schwartz as an actor, producer, and figure in the Yiddish Art Theater. The most relevant aspect of this article concerns the avant-garde aspects of the company and the collaboration with Boris Aronson, including valuable reproductions of Aronson’s designs for Schwartz’s company.

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  • Nahshon, Edna. “1947: A Season for Shylocks.” In Wrestling with Shylock: Jewish Responses to The Merchant of Venice. Edited by Edna Nahshon and Michael Shapiro, 140–167. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9780511845789.008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay concerns three productions and adaptations of Shakespeare’s famous play. In particular, Nahshon analyses Maurice Schwartz’s version, Shylock and His Daughter (1947), as a post-Holocaust Yiddish piece.

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Yiddish kleynkunst-teater (Yiddish Miniature Theater)

Literally meaning “little art stage,” Yiddish kleynkunst-teater was also known as “sintetish-teater” (synthetic theater) or “minyatur-teater” (miniature theater). It was inspired by European Cabaret, a unique artistic language that began to develop in the 1880s with the establishment of the cabaret Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) in Paris (1881–1897). This cabaret inspired dozens of others in cultural centers throughout Europe: Quatre Gats (Four Cats) opened in Barcelona in 1897, becoming a center of Spanish modernism and hosting groundbreaking art exhibitions; Jung Wien (Young Vienna) was founded by Karl Kraus in Vienna in 1901; Zielony Balonik (Green Balloon) was founded in Kraków in 1905 by Jan August Kisielewski, as an attempt to provide an alternative to the local establishment culture. By the end of World War I, cabarets had become unofficial meeting places for painters, poets, musicians, and theatrical artists who endeavored, through their cooperation, to renew their art and widen the accepted boundaries of the genre. Cabaret’s combination of “high” and “low” culture was not only an expression of the aesthetic quest characteristic of the period, but also a means to express social and political criticism, breaking down social barriers and negating class differences. Le Picador cabaret was established by Julian Tuwim in Warsaw in 1918; the costumes were designed by the Łódź artist Arthur Szyk, who later worked with Broderzon. A year later Tuwim also founded Quid Pro Quo, which became a source of inspiration among Warsaw artistic circles and to which critics in the Yiddish press compared the Yiddish companies Azazel and Ararat. A further cabaret that influenced Yiddish artists was Der Blaue Vogel (The Blue Bird), a Berlin-based troupe established by Russian artists fleeing the Bolshevik revolution that was founded in 1920 by the actor and director Jascha Jushny (Rotman 2021). The combination of entertainment—including folk songs, dances, short skits, and humoristic monologues—with marionette theater, shadow theater, and pantomime, which were considered minor theatrical forms and expressions of popular art, stimulated poets, theater artists, and plastic artists. Indeed, many saw this as the key to a new stage language. Yiddishe kleynkunst, or miniature theater, developed a modernist and avant-garde approach to theater. It was characterized not only by the use of a Jewish language but also references to Jewish topics and the tendency to reflect on the past as a means to build a modern, secular Jewish culture (Nudelman 1968).

  • Nudelman, Moyshe. “Kleynkunst—Un marionetn-teaters tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes.” In Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes. Vol. 1, Poyln. Edited by Itsik Manger, Jonas Turkow, and Moyshe Perenson, 163–168. New York: Altveltlekher yidisher kultur kongres, 1968.

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    Moyshe Nudelman surveys the development of Jewish miniature theater in Poland.

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  • Rotman, Diego. The Yiddish Stage as a Temporary Home—Dzigan and Shumacher’s Satirical Theater (1927–1980). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2021: 1–14.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110717693Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This work includes an introduction to the Yiddish kleynkunst-bine (miniature theater), tracing its development in the tradition of the European modernist theater and avant-garde movements.

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Khad-gadye (1922–1923)

In 1922 the poet Moyshe Broderzon, visual artist Yitskhok Broyner, composer Henekh Kon, and author Y. M. Nayman established Khad-gadye—the first Yiddish puppet theater in Poland—in the tradition of the Russian cabaret’s puppet theater. The skits were written by Broderzon, Yankev Oberzhanek, and Nayman. The first show also included a work by Froym Kaganovski. The puppets were made by Broyner, who also designed and illustrated the posters. The music was composed by Kon, who played in the performances alongside Sheyne-Miriam Broderzon. The content of the performances was mainly satirical and concerned Polish Jewry and politics. Khad-gadye ceased performing after only one year, in January 1923. A few years later, its artists played a leading role in establishing Ararat. In 1940, while in the Łódź ghetto, Broyner once again established a satirical puppet theater named Khad-gadye that mainly staged parodies of ghetto personalities.

  • Nudelman, Moyshe. “Kleynkunst—Un marionetn-teaters tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes.” In Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes. Vol. 1, Poyln. Edited by Itsik Manger, Jonas Turkow, and Moyshe Perenson, 163–168. New York: Altveltlekher yidisher kultur kongres, 1968.

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    In his article, Moyshe Nudelman, one of the central authors of skits and monologues for Khad-gadye and later Ararat and Dzigan and Shumacher’s theater, surveys the development of Jewish miniature theater in Poland.

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Azazel (Warsaw, 1926–1928)

Although Miroslawa Bułat refers to Yaakov Shternberg’s performances in Bucharest in 1917–1918 as the first example of the kleynkunst-bine genre in Yiddish, Azazel, founded in 1926, represented a true milestone in the evolution of this genre. Its members included director Dovid Herman, painter Henryk Berlewi, composer Henekh Kon, actress Tea Arciszewska, and stage designer Władysław Weintraub. Students from Herman’s studio acted alongside veteran performers such as Chaim Sandler, Yoysef Strugatsh, Ola Lilit, and Vladek Godik. In its first show, Azazel performed skits by Moyshe Broderzon, Der Tunkeler (Yoysef Tunkl), Alter Katsizne, Moyshe Nudelman, Yankev Oberzhanek, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, and Yekhezkl-Moyshe (Y. M.) Nayman. The troupe’s musicians were Israel Glatstein and Henekh Kon, and the music included new compositions as well as adaptations of popular songs. Azazael closed in 1928 due to economic difficulties.

Ararat (Lodz, 1927–1935; Dzigan and Shumacher’s Theater 1939–1960)

The troupe was founded in Łódź, Poland, in 1927 by the poet Moyshe Broderzon (b. 1890–d. 1956), who also served as its artistic director. It developed from the Lodzher teater studio (Łódź Theater Studio), which was founded two years previously. The name Ararat is an acronym for the Artistisher revolutsyonerer teater (Revolutionary Artistic Theater). Influenced by European and Russian literary cabaret as well as the tradition of Yiddish humor, Ararat became one of the central Jewish theater groups active in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. The theater used a modernist and revolutionary language, as is reflected in the search for innovation in performative elements (repertoire, music, scenery, costumes, language, and the director’s style). Moyshe Pulaver, Shimen Dzigan, and Wihlem Falek were its theater directors. Among the main actors appearing in performances during this initial period were Sheyne-Miriam Broderzon, Zisel Girl Gorlitska, Shimen Dzigan, Yehudit Berg (Iza Harari), Moyshe Pulaver, Mashe Feterman, Motl Kon, Kazanover (Moyshe Kosman), Yankev Reynglas, and Yisroel Shumacher. The sets were designed mainly by Shmuel Blum and Dina Matus, the costumes by Y. Kenig. Yankl Adler and Yitskhok Broyner, friends of Broderzon from the Yung-Yidish period, also helped to design some of the scenery and programs. Roman Rozental designed the costumes and scenery for Ararat’s first show. Y. Yerozolimski was responsible for lighting design and operation. The music was composed by Henekh Kon, Dovid Beygelman, Henrik Yavlon, Shaul Berezovsky, and Herts Rubin. The troupe staged texts by Yankev Oberzhanek, Der Tunkeler, Moyshe Nadir, Moyshe Nudelman, and many others, although the main writer was Broderzon. Iza Harari, Sheyne-Miriam Broderzon, Shimen Dzigan, and Irena Prusicka were responsible for the choreography.

  • Der Tunkeler (Yoysef Tunkel). Sefer hahumoresḳot ṿehaparodyot hasifrutiyot beyidish: Mivḥar ketavim humorisṭiyim ʿal yehudei mizraḥ Eiropa ṿetarbutam bePolin bein shetei milḥamot haʿolam. Edited by Yechiel Szeintuch. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1990.

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    A selection of writings by Yoysef Tunkel, one of the authors whose works were performed on the Yiddish kleynkunst-bine. The texts are in Yiddish with Hebrew translation, accompanied by an essay concerning his writings by the scholar Yechiel Szeintuch.

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  • Dzigan, Shimen. Der koyekh fun yidishn humor. Tel Aviv: Gezelshaftlekhn komitet tsu fayern 40yor tetikeyt fun Shimen Dzigan af der yidisher bine, 1974.

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    In his autobiography, the comedian Shimen Dzigan describes the society in which he was raised, his personal development, his theatrical path, and the connection between art and the surrounding political reality. It contains a rich variety of anecdotes regarding the beginning of the ARARAT troupe as well as portraits of his youthful experiences and artistic career from. This work, by one of Ararat’s central figures, is written from Dzigan’s unique perspective and thus offers a very subjective portrait.

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  • Fater, Issachar. Musiḳa yehudit bePolin bein shetei milḥamotolam. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1992.

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    One of the few texts about Henekh Kon, an exceptionally talented musician and one of the main composers for the Yiddish theater (Azazel, Khad-gadye, Yung-teater) and cinema (Der dibek, directed by Michał Waszyński, 1937). He was very active in Poland until the outbreak of World War II. After the war, he immigrated to the United States, where he continued to write music.

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  • Matut, Diana. Henekh Kon: Beyond the Dybbuk. YIVO, 3 October 2017.

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    A lecture on the life and work of one of the most important composers for the Yiddish theater, which includes analysis of central melodies composed by Kon as well as valuable biographical information.

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  • Pulaver, Moyshe. Ararat un lodzher tipn. Tel Aviv: Y. L. Peretz, 1972.

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    Pulaver, one of the actors and directors in the Ararat troupe, included in his work facsimiles of original documents, pictures, personal memories, and press clippings about Ararat. These constitute important sources for its study. However, the book should be used with caution: it presents a very personal interpretation of the troupe by one of Ararat’s central figures and its information is not always accurate.

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  • Rotman, Diego. The Yiddish Stage as a Temporary Home—Dzigan and Shumacher’s Satirical Theater (1927–1980). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110717693Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A survey of Dzigan and Shumacher’s artistic careers that begins with their first steps in the Lodzer Teater Studio founded by Moyshe Broderzon, tracing the development of the kleynkunst-bine Ararat and the evolution of the duo’s own theater. It follows their path from Poland to the Soviet Union in the war years, back to Poland and their later wanderings between Israel, Europe, and South and North America. It discusses various performances based on primary sources.

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  • Rozier, Gilles. Moyshe Broderzon: Un écrivain yiddish d’avant-garde. Saint-Denis, France: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1999.

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    The book is an important contribution to the study of Moyshe Broderzon’s literary works. It likewise discusses the Ararat theater, which was founded by Broderzon, from historical and literary perspectives, analyzing some of the texts and songs performed by the troupe.

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Kabaret Kaftan (1930–1933)

Kabaret Kaftan was a Yiddish kleynkunst-bine founded by Ruth Klinger and her husband Maxim Sakaschansky in Berlin in 1930. It was considered one of the best cabarets in Berlin, combining Yiddish and English.

  • Klinger, Ruth. Die Frau im Kaftan: Lebensbericht einer Schauspielerin. Gerlingen, Germany: Bleicher Vlg, 1992.

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    Ruth Klinger describes the history of the cabaret, its audience, and some of its main characteristics. This is a primary resource written by the founder of the troupe from her own subjective perspective.

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Freie Jüdische Volksbühne (1919–1922)

In 1920, Yakov Botoshansky became the literary director of Vienna’s Freie Jüdische Volksbühne (Free Jewish People’s Theater) during its tour to Romania. While the company used a German name, it was a Yiddish-language ensemble and its repertoire included works by Yiddish modernist playwrights Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch, Sh. An-ski, Dovid Pinski, Y. L. Peretz, and H. Leivick.

  • Dalinger, Brigitte. “Popular Jewish Drama in Vienna in the 1920s.” In Jewish Theatre: A Global View. Edited by Edna Nahshon, 175–196. Translated by Aileen Derieg. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004173354.i-308.23Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A discussion of the history of Jewish popular theater in Vienna, mainly Yiddish comedies. The essay is part of an in-depth study concerning Yiddish theater in Vienna and is based on primary sources and important archival work. Original German: Verloschene Sterne: Geschichte des jüdischen Theaters in Wien (Vienna: Picus, 1998).

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Modicut (New York, 1925–1933)

Modicut was an American-Yiddish puppet theater created by the artists, writers, and satirists Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler. The theater merged, similarly to many Yiddish avant-garde theaters, popular and folk culture with avant-garde aesthetics, and in this case also humor, political and social criticism, and the grotesque. It synthesized modernist and avant-garde aesthetics with Yiddish tradition. They mocked Yankev Glatshteyn’s poem “Tirtltoyb” (Turtledove), penned some original plays, created and performed an original Purimshpil, as well as a parody of An-ski’s The Dybbuk. The beautiful puppets were crafted by Maud and Cutler. Modicut toured Europe in 1929.

  • Portnoy, Edward. “Modicut Puppet Theatre: Modernism, Satire, and Yiddish Culture.” TDR: The Drama Review 43 (1999): 115–134.

    DOI: 10.1162/105420499760347360Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A history and analysis of this Jewish-American satirical puppet theater based on unique archival material, including plays, the puppets themselves, and cinematographic documentation. Portnoy’s article is a unique contribution to the historiography of Yiddish puppet theater.

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Di Yidishe Bande (Kalisz, 1932; Warsaw, 1933–1939)

This miniature theater was established in 1932 in Kalisz, under the management of Dovid Lederman and Zishe Katz. Its name was inspired by the successful Polish miniature theater Banda. The troupe moved to Łódź and later, during that same year, settled in Warsaw. In 1939 the troupe set out on a tour of performances in America. Among the actors who participated in the troupe were Rokhl Holzer, Yokheved Zilberg, Zishe Katz, Dovid Lederman, Lili Liliana, Mark Morevski, Lola Folman, Peysakh Kerman, Malvina Rappel, and Ayzik Rotman. The musical manager was Dovid Beygelman. Dzigan and Shumacher appeared together with this troupe in 1933 and 1934.

  • Nudelman, Moyshe. “Kleynkunst—Un marionetn-teaters tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes.” In Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes. Vol. 1, Poyln. Edited by Itsik Manger, Jonas Turkow, and Moyshe Perenson, 163–168. New York: Altveltlekher yidisher kultur kongres, 1968.

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    Nudelman discusses Di Yidishe Bande in the context of the Yidish kleynkunst-bine.

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Visual Artists

Some of the most outstanding figures in the development of an avant-garde aesthetic in the Jewish theater, besides the playwrights and the theater directors who experimented with new forms of theater or adapted classic texts, were visual artists. Indeed, in designing sets, costumes, playbills, and billboards, they contributed to the development of a new Jewish theatrical aesthetic, and their contributions were the most visible expression of this avant-garde aesthetic. Most of these artists studied in art academies in Poland and Europe and were directly influenced by the new trends and the experiments conducted by the modernist movements. The role of those artists and their unique contribution to theatrical art, apart from references to well-known artists such as Chagall, who collaborated with GOSET, has not yet been studied. The list of artists who contributed to the development of this art is very long. Among them, besides Chagall in Moscow and Aronoson in the United States, were Yitskhok Broyner (b. 1887–d, 1944), who studied art in Warsaw, Kraków, and Berlin and published articles on theater and art in Lodzher tageblat, Folksblat, and Nayer folksblat; Marek Szwarc (b. 1892–d. 1958), born in Zgierz, who studied art in Paris (1910–1914) and published in the journal for Jewish art, Maḥmadim; Nathan Altman; Yoysef Tshaykov; Yitskhok Lichtenstein; Leo Kenig; the already mentioned Władysław Wajntraub; Yankl Adler; and Dina Matus.

  • Aronson, Arnold. “Yiddish Theater and the Transformation of American Design.” In New York’s Yiddish Theater. Edited by Edna Nahshon, 194–221. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

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    This article about the Jewish Kiev-born artist Boris Aronson (b. 1900–d. 1980) describes the influence of constructivism and other modernist movements on his works. It surveys Aronson’s move to New York, where he started his career in the Yiddish experimental theater, designing sets and costumes for many companies, such as Undzer Teater and the Yiddish Art Theater. The article includes reproductions of many of his beautiful designs for the Yiddish stage.

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  • Berlewi, Henryk. “Jewish Artists in Contemporary Russian Art.” Translated by Rachel Field. In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies, 5 February 2018.

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    A very important primary resource by one of the most important Jewish artists who worked with Yiddish theater, in which he refers to Jewish artists in Russia. The article is in Yiddish with a recent translation by Rachel Field.

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  • Dimitrieva, Marina, and Gerald Holden. “Traces of Transit: Jewish Artists from Eastern Europe in Berlin.” Osteuropa 58 (2008): 143–156.

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    A study of the years that many Jewish visual artists spent in Berlin. Many of the artists discussed played a central role not only in the development of modernist art but also avant-garde Jewish theater, among them Altman, Berlewi, and Chagall.

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  • Frost, Matthew. “Marc Chagall and the Jewish State Chamber Theatre.” Russian History 8 (1981): 90–107.

    DOI: 10.1163/187633181X00066Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    One of the first in-depth analyses of Marc Chagall’s work with GOSET. The article includes many black and white reproductions of Chagall’s work for the theater.

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  • Goodman, Susan Tumarkin, and Zvi Y. Gitelman, eds. Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater. New York: Jewish Museum, under the auspices of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2009.

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    The book brings together articles by the most important scholars who have studied the GOSET and Habima Theaters (Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Zvi Gitelman, Vladislav Ivanov, Jeffrey Veidlinger, Benjamin Harshav), as well as excellent reproductions of Chagall’s theater scenography, reproductions of posters, prints, playbills, and designs for costumes and sets.

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  • Guralnik, Nechama, Ulrich Krempel, and Janina Ładnowska, eds. Yankl Adler 1895–1945. Tel Aviv: Masada, 1985.

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    A catalogue of an outstanding exhibition of Adler’s (b. 1895–d. 1949) works at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, including reproductions. Adler, who was born in Tuchin, studied printing in Łódź and art in Dusseldorf. The influence of German expressionism is evident in his works. He achieved great recognition in Germany. In 1943 he settled in London.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin, and Barbara Harshav. The Moscow Yiddish Theater: Art on Stage in the Time of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    A very important book regarding GOSET, the Jewish body, Jewish cultural politics, and the avant-garde aesthetic that characterized the company in its first decade. The book includes rich visual materials, among them reproductions of Marc Chagall’s contributions to the theater. It also offers an in-depth analysis of Chagall’s work and translations of documents, memoirs, short plays, reviews, and ephemera. Of particular significance are the extensive bibliography and very rich glossary of names.

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  • Quint, Alyssa. “Visual Artists and Yiddish Avant-garde Theatre in Poland.” Digital Yiddish Theatre Project, June 2018.

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    Alysa Quint discusses the work of avant-garde visual artists working in collaboration with Jewish theater companies. She emphasizes the important role that these artists played yet notes that they have often been relegated to the background of the historiography of Yiddish theater.

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  • Spencer, Herbert. Pioneers of Modern Typography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983.

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    Includes an interesting chapter on Berlewi’s typographic design and on his collaboration with his teacher, El Lissitzky. See pp. 41–54. First published 1966.

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Contemporary Avant-garde Yiddish Performance

The late 20th century witnessed a widely discussed revival (or recreation) of Klezmer music in Germany, the United States, and many other countries, in addition to prominent performances of Yiddish theater plays in the United States and in Israel, with the establishment of the Yiddishpiel theater. At the same time, artists such as Israeli actor Mendy Cahan began to approach the Yiddish modernist and avant-garde performative arena. Cahan’s Yung Yiddish, supported by Sholem Aleichem House, is in a sense a revival of Yiddish cabaret. Joined by other artists, such as Avishay Fish and Ruth Levin, or Esther’s Cabaret, Yung Yiddish stages Yiddish texts written by Yaad Biran and Esther Nissim, dealing also with contemporary issues in Yiddish and performing in the modernist style. Contemporary artists who use Yiddish in some of their works (the Israeli artist Ariella Plotkin and Ilan Green are examples) have also contributed to this trend, as well as other artists and collectives that produced contemporary Yiddish avant-garde performances in Yiddish with Hebrew or English translations, such as the Sala-Manca Group in Israel, which has presented works at the National Poetry Festival in Metula, the Jerusalem Film Festival, and the Israel Festival. These projects combine and challenge archive and repertoire, past and present, dead and alive, beginning a new chapter in the history of Yiddish theater and performance in Israel. A contemporary Yiddish avant-garde scene also developed in the United States, some in the field of queer performances, as in the work of Jenny Romain and Shane Baker. Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of this contemporary avant-garde Yiddish performance is the fact that if a company performs in Yiddish in the post-vernacular era, the audience does not always understand Yiddish well, or at all. However, this tension between the vernacular and post-vernacular, between a living and a dead language, and between present and future, characterizes the new Yiddish avant-garde.

Archives and Primary Sources

This section includes some of the most important archives and resources for the research of Yiddish theater and Yiddish avant-garde theater.

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