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March 4: Romantic Idols of the Yiddish Theater

Miriam Kressyn, who with her husband of fifty years, Seymour Rechtzeit (often spelled Rexite), became a beloved couple of the Yiddish theater stage, was born in Bialystok, Poland on this date in 1910 (some sources say 1912). Thirteen years later she came to America and went on scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. She […]

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February 13: The Klezmer Clarinetist

Dave Tarras, a charismatic klezmer clarinetist who lived long enough to pass the music onto a new generation in the 1980s, died at 95 in Oceanside, New York on this date in 1989. Tarras left the Ukraine and emigrated to New York in 1921, where after a short stint in the fur industry he became […]

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June 11: Jacob Gordin and the Yiddish Theater

Jacob Gordin, the Yiddish playwright who helped take Yiddish theater out of the realm of spectacle and biblical operetta into realism and naturalism in the second half of the 19th century, died at 56 on this date in 1909. Ukrainian- born, he came to New York in 1891 and only then sought his livelihood in […]

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June 4: Es Brent

Poet and songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig, whose 1938 song, “Es Brent” (It’s Burning) became the anthem of the Krakow Ghetto resistance movement, was murdered at age 65 in Krakow by Nazi gunfire en route to the cattle cars for deportation on this date in 1942. A Bundist who spent his entire life in the working-class neighborhoods […]

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March 12: The Grand Theater

The Grand Theater, New York’s first theater built to house Yiddish productions, was founded on this date in 1902. Among its founder-owners were Sophia Karp, a soprano from Romania who became known as the first professional Yiddish theater actress; Joseph Lateiner, a playwright, also from Romania; and Moishe Finkel, business partner to Yiddish theater greats […]

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January 13: Sholom Secunda

Sholem Secunda, one of the great composers of the Second Avenue Yiddish theater scene, died at 79 on this date in 1974. A boy cantor in the Ukraine, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1907, enrolled at the Institute for Musical Art (now The Juilliard School) in 1914, and studied with Ernest […]

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People of the Book 101: Joseph Landis and Daniel Waldman

by Jules Chametzky Some years back I served with the late Kenneth Libo (1937-2012), who did wonderful work as chief researcher and contributor to Irving Howe’s magisterial and indispensable World of Our Fathers, on an advisory committee for a projected documentary on Abraham Cahan, the fabled editor for fifty years of the Yiddish Forverts. As part […]

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December 23: H. Leyvik and the Golem

Poet and playwright H. Leyvik (Leyvik Halpern), author of The Golem, one of Yiddish literature’s most famous plays, died shortly before his seventy-fourth birthday on this date in 1962. Leivick was a yeshiva bokher (a religious student) before joining the Jewish Labor Bund and participating in the 1905 revolution in Russia, which landed him in […]

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September 22: Paul Muni

Academy Award-winning actor Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfreund), who got his start in the Yiddish theater, was born in Lemberg, Galicia (Lviv in the Ukraine today) on this date in 1895. Adept at designing his own makeup, Muni as a 12-year-old played an 80-year-old character in his first role on stage. In his first English role, […]

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