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May 21: Ida Kaminska

Lawrence Bush
May 21, 2010

ida kaminskaIda Kaminska, theater and film star of the Yiddish-speaking world for seven decades, died on this date in 1980. The daughter of well-known Yiddish theater professionals — her mother, Ester Rokhl Kaminska, was the first actress to bring introspective acting and serious theatrical teamwork to the Yiddish stage — Kaminska began her stage life at age five, in 1904. By 1921 she had established the Ida Kaminska Theater and was translating, adapting, directing and performing as a major figure in Poland’s “Golden Age of Yiddish Theater.” Kaminska was the cofounder of the Warsaw Jewish Art Theater and several other companies in the course of her lifetime, introducing world-renowned Russian, French and English dramas to Yiddish audiences. Surviving the Holocaust in exile in the USSR, she returned to Poland in 1946 and directed and merged the two remaining Yiddish theaters in her decimated country. Poland’s anti-Semitic campaign in 1968, however, drove her to the U.S., where she tried unsuccessfully to launch a Yiddish repertory theater. Kaminska was best known to Western audiences through her Oscar-nominated performance in the 1967 Czechoslovak film, The Shop on Main Street.
“Her hands tremble, her face contorts and she radiates a sad smile of self-sacrifice. It is great acting.” —Richard F. Shepard, New York Times, 1967
Watch Ida Kaminska in a scene from A Shop on Main Street:

The Shop on Main Street by BestForeignMovies

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.