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[Pages 89-91]

The Circle of Theater Fans

by Moshe Bik

(“Lyubitelskiy Kruzshok”)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It was the winter of 1902-1903. Persecution and oppression were of the signs of the times. The youth was strangled from lack of air to breathe. Nevertheless, the youth did not make peace with the situation that the Czarist police imposed upon them, and searched for ways of filling their life with content and of quenching their youthful thirst for cultural progress and spiritual satisfaction. Various circles sprouted up and were active in various communal arenas. The Circle of “Fans of the Jewish Theater” was also one of the expressions of the youthful longing. The circle was lucky, for Solomon Mironovitz Loshakov, the photographer from our town, who had artistic talent and a high level of culture, took upon himself the brave task of leading the circle and directing it so that it could also take on a theatrical role. Making this a reality was no simple matter. Without experience and means, lacking a repertoire that was fitting for the “finicky” expectations of Solomon Mironovitz, the government ban of performing in Yiddish unless they “mixed it up” and turned it into “Deutschmerish” (corrupted German) – all of these were serious obstacles to the “fans”. Nevertheless, the obstacles did not prevent them from attaining their sublime goals that the activists had presented to them: 1) of enabling the restless forces to express what is pressing upon their hearts in movements and in the language of culture; 2) primarily, coming to the aid of those in need and the charitable and benevolent institutions such as the clothing of the poor, the providing for brides, visiting the sick, providing loans, helping impoverished mothers, etc.

The dedication of the members of the circle for their various tasks that they took upon themselves is remembered. Whether preparing for or staging a performance, the fans were dedicated with their full enthusiasm. They dedicated their precious time without thinking about the inconvenience caused to themselves and their families.

As one of those who later joined the fans, I see it as my personal duty to describe those whose role in the circle was significant.

The Early Ones

In truth, there was more than one circle of theatrical fans operated in our city. Many members older than I participated in the aforementioned circle that existed from about 1902-1910 under the direction of Loshakov. I can only list their names without describing anything about them, despite the fact that they were known in our community as people of high intelligence and artistic development. These are their names: Mania the sister of Loshakov, Pini Shaposhnik and his brother Velvel, Hershel Milshteyn, Nissel Krasilschik and his wife Soibel, Milia Branover, Tzeviya Katz, the wife of Binyamin Globman, Sara Nayman, the sister of Rachel Ravich, Berel Dinovitzer, the son of Yonah the cantor, and others. I will dedicate my article to a later period, approximately from 1910 to 1920, in which I was close to the circle and participated in it.

Pini Ziserov. Pini “Der Roiter” (The Redhead) earned this nickname on account of his reddish brown hair color. He was the son of Nechama and Asher Kalashnik. His father was a repairer of galoshes, a trade from which he was not able to support his family, for only the poorer people required this, and even so only on the rainy days of the autumn. Therefore, when he was still a young child, his parents sent him over to the basement of Leib Stolyar (Leib the tall) to study carpentry. Since Pini was graced with a fine alto voice, he joined the choir of Yonah the Lame, the cantor of the tailor's synagogue, and became known as a pleasant singer. He studied only very little in the cheder. His knowledge was restricted. Through his own initiative and with his musical sense, at a later age he became the director of the choir of singing fans in the city, and created new musical creations that nobody had ever heard or studied previously. He was also a creator of stage performances. He joined the Circle of Theater Fans at a young age. There as well, he exhibited wonderful talent and artistic sense. He enchanted the audience with his appearance. Despite the fact that he had never received any training, he lived for his roles, his manner of speaking was colloquial. He excelled particularly in the roles of: “Uriel Acosta”, “Hershele Dobrobner”, “Begat”, “Man and the Devil” of Yaakov Gordon, and in “Hameturaf”. The audience was captivated by him in these roles, and he brought the audience to a level of exultation beyond their day to day lives.

With the progress of economic and cultural life in the city, the accepted custom of calling the residents by various nicknames was abandoned, and official surnames took their place. The economic and communal status of Pini the “Roiter” grew, and his name changed from “Pini der Roiter” to Pini Ziserov. However, a cruel fate awaited him. He died from a malignant disease at a young age. He left behind an unfortunate widow and two orphans.

Drama Class 1917-1920

Drama Class 1917-1920

(for names in the picture go to Table of Figures entry)
Below from right to left: 1. [feh]. Roitkov 2. L. Kleiner 3. Grobokopatel 4. M. Bik
In the middle: 1. S. Shulman 2. C. Abramovitz 3. M. Shtiken 4. H. Vurgaft 5. C. Kovadlo 6. R. Balan
Above: 1. R. (Horovitz) Shaposhnik 2. B. Z. Finkelshteyn 3. [alef]. Katzap 4. P. Ziserov 5. B. Gleybman 6. Z. Rabinovitz

 

Reuven the “Ravich” (the Hunchback) Shaposhnik earned his fame in Orheyev from his three traits - the fact that he was a hunchback, his left eye that was larger and opened wider than his right eye, and from his unique theatrical roles at which he excelled. He had other traits, such as his poverty and his large number of children, but he was not unique in our city with these.

He was one of the first in the Circle of Fans. For what good would the best play be from an artistic perspective if the jester were a good for nothing? He was jovial and jocular not only in his theatrical roles, but also in his daily life.

His improvised verses about matters of the day, such as the miserly ruler, the activist who mixes into communal affairs, and even about the straits and hunger of his wife and children – which were spread around from mouth to mouth. He defined his role amongst the fans as “A character comic”.

I will never forget Reuven's success in the roles of “Leyzer the jester” in the play “God, Man and the Devil”, Shulman in “Mirele Efrat”, the servant “Shmaya” in “King Lear”, and the undertaker in Goldfaden's “Kabtzanson and Hungerman”. Who can remember the great number of characters and roles that he performed with exceptional success.

Reuven Shaposhnik died before his time. He left behind in mourning his wife Chava and his young children. She supported her children by baking tasty “Malaies” and squash stuffed knishes, which her children would distribute door to door – so as to not, Heaven forbid, require charity.

His two sons and daughter made aliya to the Land, and settled in the homeland.

Eidel Lerner. He had a clear tenor voice. He joined the choir of Cantor Yonah the Lame, and he was also a member of the Circle of Fans. He was a shoemaker by trade, and he was also called Eidel “Baitsh” (The Whip). In contrast to others in his dirty trade, he was concerned about his dress, and after a day of work, he would dress like the “Cavaliers”, the children of the wealthy people, with the addition of colors of an opera singer, so to speak.

As most of his friends in the circle, he was not from among the highly intelligent. He barely knew how to read and write Yiddish. Despite this, when he appeared on the stage in the role of Dr. Almasdo, Bar Kochba, or Absalom in Shulamit, the audience would listen to his pleasant, captivating voice with baited breath. His external appearance added a great deal to the grotesqueness of his performances, for Eidel was handsome with a rare male grace.

I received the news that he survived the Holocaust and returned to Orheyev. Did he find any of his friends? Or does he go about there forlorn, alone and dreaming of his world that once was so pleasant and nice, and is no longer…

Ben-Zion Finkelshteyn

Ben-Zion Finkelshteyn

 

Ben-Zion Finkelshteyn the thin, skin and bones, almost transparent, as if he was covered in cigarette paper. Nevertheless, he had a refined spirit, he was a dreamer, and he was the “prompter” (the souffleur in the vernacular) of the Circle of Fans. He was graced from heaven with an opaque voice and a whispery speech, which was particularly suited to this role. He was the expert in the “small letters” and knew how to pronounce every Hebrew word appropriately. He loved literature. (Perhaps that is why he chose the trade of bookbinding). He himself wrote dramas and comedies. Each drama was bound in a special cloth binding for “recognition”. His name and the name of the drama were etched in gold letters. If you went to his house, he would always be prepared to read to you at least one scene of his creations. Despite the fact that he was always busy and toiling for bread for his family, he would devote time to you and explain the artistic and technical sides of a flowing dialogue or monologue. His plays and dramas were indeed pictures drawn from life, plays of the times, albeit slightly late for the times. They never attained a place for themselves. They remained hidden in the decorated bindings with golden letters as the dead in their graves.


[Pages 91-92]

The Dramatic Circle

by Rivka Milshteyn

(directed by Solomon Loshakov, 1920-1926)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Solomon Loshakov

Solomon Loshakov

 

There were few cultural institutions in our city. There was a library, whose directors attempted to provide spiritual sustenance to the youth. There was also a movie theater, and at times, artistic troupes on route northward from Kishinev would visit our city. On the other hand, there was a group of progressive youth who longed for self-expression over and above these places of entertainment. The desire for true artistic expression particularly troubled them. To our fortune, the Loshakov family lived in our city with their sons Solomon, Boris and Arkadi and daughter Mania. They were graced with a high level of artistic and cultural talent. We were drawn to this progressive and cultured home for artistic expression. In the company of the family members – Solomon, the actor on the Russian stage; Arkadi the artist and talented exercise instructor; and their talented sister Mania – we found a place for entertainment and discussing the problems of the times. We also arranged literary debates on artistic topics.

Solomon had the idea of operating a dramatic circle that had ceased its performances at the time. We accepted the advice with great joy.

On account of the ban by the Romanian authorities of performing in Russian, we decided to perform a Yiddish repertoire. Solomon, with his good sense, chose plays that would be particularly acceptable to the Jewish community, such as: “Aizik Sheftil”, “Der Fremder” (“The Stranger”), “Menshen” (“People”), “Nor a Doctor” (“Only a Doctor”) of Shalom Aleichem, and others. He also had the idea of translating “Harechov” (“The Street”) of Joskovitz, but for some reason, this did not happen.

Drama Class taught by Solomon Loshakov 1920-26

Drama Class taught by Solomon Loshakov 1920-26

Seated from right to left: 1. P. Ziserov 2. Solomon Loshkov 3. Mania Serebrenik 4. …
Standing: 1. R. Milshteyn 2. [feh]. Huberman 3. N. Davidovitz 4. [alef]. Bakovskaya 5. Serebrenik 6. D. Ostrovsky 7. … 8. S. Rapoport

 

The most successful play that we performed was “Guilty without Blame”. The stage-master was of course Solomon. The participants included Yaakov Serebrenik, Dr. Berkovitz of blessed memory, David Bronshteyn, Pini Ziserov of blessed memory, Feivel Rotkov may he live, Dr. Bord, Shaike Rapoport, Mania Loshakov-Serebrenik, Sara Nayman, Rivka Rozenfeld-Milshteyn, Eida Bakovskaya, Polya Adesser, Zenia Kohan and others. Nachum Davidovitz translated from Russian to Yiddish, and served as Solomon's technical assistant. A significant number of the members of the troupe were blessed with recognizable stage talent.

Experience we did not have, but in all of us there burned a desire and enthusiasm to express our artistic longings. We dedicated ourselves to the roles that we took on with desire and enthusiasm, with the ambition to present the performance to the best of our ability. I recall the enthusiasm and dedication with which we studied our roles for the play “Guilty without Blame”. Solomon, Yaakov S. and his wife Mania had the prime roles. The rest of the participants also fulfilled their roles in an exceptional fashion, as was demonstrated by the enthusiasm of the audience and the prolonged applause in the auditorium. Indeed, the troupe was very much loved by the audience. We donated the income to communal institutions such as the Talmud Torah, the Jewish hospital, the library, and at times to individual needy people.

The role of the Loshakov family was very great and important in this cultural enterprise. We would study our lines in their home. There, we would exchange ideas about its educational and cultural value. The opinion of Solomon, with his cultural level and his good sense, always was on top. We drew from this unfailing source for several years. We spent hours and hours in the company of this sublime family. It seemed as if our strong connection to them would never be cut. Then, one fine day, we were informed that Solomon had decided to immigrate to Paris… This saddening news fell upon us like a blow. Without Solomon Loshakov, what were we and what was our essence?

I recall that we arranged a goodbye party in his honor. Each one of us expressed our reverence to Solomon with great enthusiasm. We felt that with his departure, the circle would disband, and we would feel its lack for a great period of time. Indeed, we would still gather in the orphaned Loshakov home for a long time in order to draw from the pleasant atmosphere that still prevailed in the family, to recall our successes that we had with our plays and by spending time in the realm of Solomon. We attempted once more to present a performance, under the direction of Yaakov Serebrenik. Despite the fact that the performance worked out well, the sublimity that pervaded with under the directorship of Solomon was no more.

Time passed, and the members of the circle scattered to the four corners of the world. A few remained alive. Solomon Loshakov was exiled to Siberia, and the only daughter of the Serebrenik family lives in Bessarabia. I succeeded in arriving to the Land with my two children after much suffering and tribulation.

With deep sorrow and an anguished heart I am with you in memory, my murdered and plundered friends.

Translated from Russian by M. R.

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