Page 162 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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Shivas tsion
(“The Return to Zion,” 1888). Too much had
changed too quickly even for an upscale
with the best
ideological credentials.
Behind Zunser’s back, the medium of Yiddish songs had al­
ready been transformed, from hymn and homily to professional
entertainment. Its new and permanent venue was
The Yiddish
an 800-page extravaganza published in New York City
to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Yiddish theater
and republished many times since.24 Theater songs, arranged
by operetta title, took up four-fifths of the densely printed vol­
ume. “Worker- and Folk-Songs, and Poems for Declamation”
made up the rest, including a paltry five songs by Zunser. Per­
haps Ginzburg and Marek had this book in mind when they
complained that the new songs were crowding out the old, for
there was not a single bona fide, anonymous “folksong” in the
bunch; not one. What the folk was singing, in America, at least,
were the songs of Avrom Goldfaden, the father of the Yiddish
theater. Founded in Rumania in 1877 and exported to the New
World five years later, the Yiddish theater was already being
celebrated by the “largest Yiddish publication in America.”
A professional Yiddish theater was obviously an idea whose
time had come. Folk theater was losing ground to such urban
forms of entertainment as the reading of closet dramas in He­
brew and Yiddish or the one-night stand of the Broder Singers.
The wonder of it all is that it took Avrom Goldfaden (ne
Goldenfodem, 1840-1908) so long to make the historic leap
from the
and cabaret to a permanent ensemble of
male and female actors who played an original repertoire of
Yiddish operettas. Here, in any event, was the right man for
the job. At age eleven he had begun composing poems in He­
brew and as a student at the Zhitomir Rabbinical Seminary he
played the female lead in an amateur production of
first modern Yiddish play by Shloyme Ettinger.25 Like Velvl
D i yidishe bine,
vol. 2, ed. Yehudo Katsenelnboygn (New York: Hebrew Pub­
lishing Co., 1897). I worked from the 1901 reprint at the YIVO Library.
25. The most readable account o f Goldfaden’s career is by Nahma Sandrow,
Vagabond Stars: A World History o f Yiddish Theater
(New York: Harper and Row,
1977), chap. 3. For a more biographical and scholarly approach, see Reuven