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[Page 420]



The First Flash of the Yiddish Theater in Czyzewo

by Dov Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

What is meant by the concept of Yiddish theater in Czyzewo? Competition from a professional collective, actors and directors? God forbid! The song that caressed the ears, sneaked into the heart, woke a sorrowful feeling and the song that echoed cheerfully, lively and happily with hundreds of voices in the room, carried from mouth to mouth. And the plays? Did they intend to create a new style of dramaturgy in Czyzewo? No one then thought of this. There were intimate figures, rooted in the depth of the soul of the people who always yearned for a simple, healthy entertainment and loved to ridicule the ridiculous person, Kuni Lemls and Binkes-Pinkes and together all drew their inspiration from the old Jewish Purim-shpiler [Purim actors], who during the dark days of the bleak persecutions and vexations, entertained the Jew in the ghetto.[1]

This was also the strength with which we conquered all difficulties in putting together our theater collective. This also was the secret of their success. The fullest harmony always reigned between the Czyzewo audience and the amateur theater collective.

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A theatrical performance was carried out for the first time at the beginning of 1916, under the German occupation.

A young man, Goldsztajn, a photographer from Ostrow (the only photographer in the shtetl) was staying in Czyzewo. He began to organize a dramatic section.

A commission of 10 people was chosen at one of the library meetings:

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Goldsztajn, Ungresbard, Placker, Badaczker, Szerszyn, Mordekhai Brukasz, Moshel Ljubselczik, Sholem Czelianogura. All of these are no longer among the living and, yibodl lekhaim,[2] Berl Brukasz and Avraham-Josef Ritholc, who became the director.

Avraham-Josef Ritholc undertook to put together an ensemble and lead the first performances: Der Restauran [The Restaurant],

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Der Shadkhan [The Matchmaker], Beym Fotografist [At the Photographer]. However, the question arose of a suitable hall. It was decided to make use of the train station for this purpose. No trains functioned then for civilians, only for the military. The large hall was not in use yet.

It was discussed with the head of the train station who agreed without difficulty to make the building available for this purpose. He also placed boards for us for a stage. The first performance took place during Chanukah.

Before the start of the performance, a children's choir sang the German song, Heil dir im Siegerkranz [Hail to Thee in Victor's Crown]. After the three one-act plays, a dance and a gossip game, flying post [a relay race in which a letter is passed from person to person for delivery] took place.

Avraham Josef Rithalc directed all of the work. He adapted the music, put together an orchestra in which Shimkhah Litman's son, who is now in America, Moshel Litman's son, shot by the Poles, Itshe Liubelszik, died in Syria, played fiddles. He himself adapted the melodies, created, directed and led the dances. In addition, he played a role in each one-act play.

czy423.jpg [13 KB]
From the right: Moshel Liubelszik, Shmuelke Wengocz, Sholem Grinberg

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The initial members of the dramatic circle were: Hershl Baraczker, died in America, Moshel Liubelszik, died in America, Sholem Grinberg, went missing after his arrest by the Russians, Shmuelke Wengosz and Moshel Zisman, victims of German violence, Berl Brukasz and Dwashke Kanet, today Dwoyra Brukasz – both are in Israel, Starkowski Fishl, Chaya-Rywka Gramadzin-Kirszenbaum, Nekha Glina-Zisman, all are in America today, in the orchestra.

The success of this evening was very great and we immediately began to prepare the performance, Der Wilde Mentsch [The Wild Man], for Purim. All of the income was designated for the Maos Khitim [society providing matzoh and other foods to the poor for Passover]. We baked matzohs in the bakeries of Dovid the malamed [religious school teacher] and Sura Ete's son Yisroelke for an entire week and sent them to poor families. We did the same with potatoes, wood and coal. Almost all of the young people in the shtetl helped with this work.

In time the drama circle was enlarged. Those who joined were: Belitshe Baliender, Sheva Surowitz, Ester Boran (perished in Poland), yibodl lekhaim, Hendl Glina-Ginsberg (today in Israel), Itsl Kirshenbaum (today in America) and others. During its existence the dramatic circle performed the following plays: Der Yidishe Harts [The Jewish Heart], Hertsele Meyukhes [Hertsele, the Man of Aristocratic Descent, an operetta by Mojzesz Richter] and Sura Sheyndl fun Yehupets [Sura Sheyndl from Yehupets]. The income was donated to the Folks [People's] Library, which was enriched with hundreds of books.

This lively activity continued until 1918 when the Poles took over the government. The Hallercziks [followers of the anti-Semitic Polish General Jozef Haller] arrived and the persecutions of the Jews began. Beards were cut,

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beatings, torture. Czyzewer young people came together in the Polish military. The war with the Bolsheviks began. In these conditions there could no longer be any talk about communal work.

In 1922, this was several months after I was freed from military service, my wife's entire family and I, which then numbered nine people, left for Israel.

The Rubinowitz family, or as they were known, Meitshke Benyamin Sender's [family], also left with us for Eretz-Yisroel. These were the first pioneer families in Czyzewo.

Simkha Gramadzin/New York


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A Kuni Leml is a fool. The name is derived from the name of a character in a play, Shnei Kuni Leml Two Kuni Lemls – by Avraham Goldfaden. return
  2. May they be separated for life – said before or after mentioning a living person among those who are dead. return

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