Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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Yiddish Theater— The Troubled Muse
t h is
y ea r
of the centennial of the Yiddish theater, every
Jewish classroom has heard, or should have heard, the now
familiar tale of Abraham Goldfaden’s almost legendary fea t-
having staged the first professional performance of Yiddish
theater, in Shimon Mark’s “Pomul Verda” wine garden (“Green
Tree Garden”) , in Yassy, Romania, in 1876. It had a cast of
broder zinger
(itinerant folk singers), former choristers,
and a commedia del arte “script,” an achievement for which
Yiddish literature has graced him with the title of “Father of
the Yiddish Theater.”1
Was Abraham Goldfaden (shortened from Goldenfadem,
which Itsik Manger thought so lovely a name), really the first to
stage a Yiddish play? Hardly. The roots of the Yiddish theater
run deep. A year before Goldfalden, Bezalel Greenberg had
staged a production of
Mekhires Yoysef
in Istanbul, Turkey, of
all places, as he himself recounts in the
Jewish Theatrical News
(March, 1925). But before Goldberg, there had briefly been
a Yiddish theater in Warsaw in 1873. And before that, also in
Warsaw, from 1868 to 1870. And in 1866, again in Warsaw,
there had appeared a company described as
broder zinger.
And before that, a concert or Purim
play in the United States in 1857. And in Cracow, Poland, in
1834 there was a professional Yiddish theater that performed
daily. In Frankfort am Main there were performances in 1711;
in Amsterdam in 1707, three times a week; and before that in
Amsterdam, in 1683 a group of Jews requested—but were denied—
permission to present a Purim play in Yiddish, despite the fact
that Yiddish Purim plays were performed at the time and had
perhaps been performed earlier. And Yiddish amateur produc­
tions had been staged in Vienna during the 1830’s and 1840’s
and in Warsaw in 1832. The most widely known of these produc­
i Yassy also boasts of the first review of a Yiddish theatrical performance,
which appeared in the
Curierul de Yassy,
no. 93, 1876, written by the
Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu.