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[Pages 104-105]

Culture and Way of Life

 

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[Page 106]

The Drama Club - “Yidishe Kunst” [Yiddish Art]

By Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

We should consider the “Purim Spieler” [The Purim Players] as the beginning of the theater in our town. That play was shown once a year, during the holiday of Purim, for the amusement of the house owners. Real theater plays began only at the end of the 19th century with the expansion of the Enlightenment. At that time, troupes from larger cities came and played in front of a crowd. The first theater hall was at the home of Dr. Ravitz, where the plays were in Yiddish. A few years later, our town people founded a local troupe, and according to what was told, quite a successful one. The teachers of the Hebrew School also tried to bring plays in Hebrew to the stage. Since they could not find such plays, they translated plays from other languages into Hebrew. The school's students and adults from the youth movement participated in those plays. All the shows were directed by local people. Among others, Bialer, the brother-in-law of Shlomo Redlikh, was active in those shows.

Permanent troupes, which traveled from city to city, visited us from time to time. At that time, there were already two theater halls. One was the spacious and luxurious Polish theater, which contained a movie theater – “Sokol.” The other was a smaller and more primitive - the Ruthenian theater – “Boyan.” Shows of the playwrights [Avraham] Golfaden: “Di kishefmakhern” [The Witch], “Di tsvey Kuni-lemels” [The Fanatic or The two Kuni-Lemels], “Shulamith” [Shulamith or The Daughter of Jerusalem], and Bar Kokhba, and [Ya'akov] Gordin: “Got, Mentsh un Tayvl” [God, Man, and Devil], “Mirele Efrat” were staged. I still remember part of the songs that the players sang on stage. I remember the one song, which is famous even today - “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen” [Raisins and Almonds]. The song won many hearts and became a [Yiddish and Hebrew] folk song. I also remember Hebrew songs about Jerusalem, “Al Em Haderkh” [On the main road], and many more. Another Yiddish song that was etched in my memory was the swearing of the movement “Poalei Tzion” [Workers of Zion] - “Bir heiben di hendeh Gegen mizrakh, in shveren… bei…Tzion” [We raise our hands towards the east in oath...to Zion...].

We progressed in that direction during the period between the two World Wars.

The young son of Gutenplan's graduated from his instrument-playing studies in the conservatory and elevated his father's orchestra to a respectable level. As an honor and recognition, the father remained the orchestra's conductor. No competitors existed in those years. The orchestra, which also had piano teachers, acquired many students from among the youths in the city.

We also had a full-time cantor with a pleasant voice who was knowledgeable in his craft. He organized a chorus for the holidays and helped us to assemble one when needed.

There is only a little we can talk about the teaching or cultivation of music until the First World War. There were two famous families – Kurtz and Gutenplan, who appeared on festive occasions and also gave lessons in playing violin, clarinet, and other instruments. Most of the students came from high school.

The shows of our youth were integrated with the drama club “Yideshe Kunst.”

Our youth also learned to dance in private lessons. During the years before the [WW I] War, they did that in secret due to resistance by the parents. They used their knowledge on festive occasions (e.g. weddings) and organized dance evenings for their entertainment (a meeting place of boys and girls, hidden from the parents who objected to such encounters).


[Page 107]

The Musical-Dramatic Union
Yidishe Kunst [Jewish Art] in Brzezany

by Moshe Bar-David (Dawid)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The founding of the musical-dramatic union, Yidishe Kunst, in Brzezany, was just a continuation of the cultural activity that had begun before the First World War, but with new strengths. The composition of the cultural institutions was mixed, beginning with the former Tseire- Zion [Youth of Zion – socialist-Zionists] and Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist-Zionists], students, merchants, members of the middle class and young men, young girls – who were searching for an appropriate communal frame, in which to derive friendly pleasure. The Union did not have any political character; the members were from the various political leanings in the Jewish neighborhood, beginning with the General-Zionist, Hitakhdut [Association - Labor-Zionists], Poalei-Zion, Revisionists, Mizrakhi [religious Zionists], HaShomer HaTsair [Young Guard – Labor-Zionists] and the very left. Searching for various qualities and opinions created an atmosphere of community spirit and cultural worth for everyone interested and they derived pleasure from it.

The first activity began in 1918. A group of young people came together in a private apartment of the Oks family, which lived in Shlomo Rajchsztajn's house on Lemberger Street. The Okses were a pious, religious family and their daughter, an intelligent girl, donated a room as well as time for gatherings and rehearsals of the acting group. The composition of the group was also fortuitous. Remember who belonged to this group. First of all, some took part in the only youth organization, HaShomer [Watchmen], and a number of future khalutzim [pioneers who emigrated to Eretz Yisroel]: the brothers Moshe, Mikhael and Ya'akov Bergman, Moshe Frid, Hersh Landau, Zunya Frasz, Leib Glazer, the Flam sisters, Shtark, Ast and others.

 

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A proclamation for the 15th anniversary of “Yidishe Kunst

[Page 108]

It appears that during the time of war, a large number of the intelligentsia and so-called theater talents, who could present a play were spread across the former Austrian monarchy, but there still were several talented young men to act as well as direct a theatrical piece. And if a performance did not stand at a high level, the amateur actors as well as the theater audience reacted with enthusiasm and were satisfied because, during the war years, we were starved for entertainment and cultural joy. We performed at the Ukrainian Bayan Room. A certain Aizenberg directed. Actors were Moshe Bergman, Polishuk (a student from Podhajce [Pidhaitsi]), Mordekhai Has, Meir Taler, Khanche Shapira, the Tirkesher[s], Shlomo Zoyberberg, Leible Mitelman, Khaim Gutshtein, Hersh Landau.

During the year, we produced two plays. One of them was Basha di Yesoyma [Basha the Orphan] by Jacob Gordin. It was at the time of Ukrainian rule. The conditions were not so good, bad theater wings, a lack of illumination, a heavy-to-move curtain, and other technically unsuitable props. However, we acted and everyone felt enjoyment until after midnight.

The activities of the group ceased for a time when the Poles drove out the Ukrainian occupiers because we did not know who would remain the ruler of that part of eastern Galicia. Everyone took care of themselves and their family until the situation stabilized and yet the interest in culture did not end.

 

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The management team of the drama club “Yidishe Kunst” in 1920

Sitting from right to left: Taler Meir, librarian, Redlikh Shlomo – cultural coordinator, Dr. Pomerantz Philip – chairman, Mitelman Leib – vice chairman, Has – a member of the Audit Committee
Standing from right to left: Lawyer Yosef Laber, a member of the Audit Committee, Magister Rutenberg Tontzio – secretary, Froindlikh Ben-Tzion – technical manager, David (Bar-David) Moshe – director, Shapira Ya'akov – treasurer, Froindlikh Ya'akov – administrator, religion teacher Taler – conductor, Vidhof Yoel – a member of the Audit Committee

[Page 109]

Conversely, the youth organization, HaShomer, became more active than previously.

They organized the Khalutz [pioneers preparing for emigration to Eretz Israel] and they took on intensive work. Young people were not bored even in the most difficult times. The thirst for spiritual and cultural values was always deep and strong among the young Jews.

In 1920-1922, the group grew and searched for a way to give the Jewish population in Brzazany a regularly organized cultural project that would be the center of Jewish camaraderie. We met in the apartment of Bernhard Leider, the dentist; [we] elected a club managing committee with a cultural lecturer, administrator, president, and secretary. We requested from the village elder and received legal permission for a musical-dramatic union, Yidishe Kunst.

In the beginning, the home of the Leider family was the living, pulsating center of the Union. Bernhard Leider was the make-up man for the actors, which was an important factor for them because they did not know the Torah of make-up. He did it with a great deal of ability, love, and great, healthy humor. Their daughter, Miskha, acted and also sang. [Leider's] wife offered the audience good things to eat and they “acted.”

For a certain time, the get-togethers and rehearsals were held at the Leider's home until a suitable premise was rented, provided with furniture, and a library was also transferred there, which once belonged to the Tseire-Zion Union before the [First] World War. The library consisted of Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and fewer Polish books. [There was] a good secular collection of books with Jewish-Zionist content as well as general, universal literature.

I want to pause here on the [subject of the] library because the library was an important component of the Union at that time. It supported the Union both communally as well as materially. Every subscriber who paid a security deposit and monthly dues for the borrowing of books made it possible to buy new books, supported the premises, and covered the remaining expenses. In time, the library strongly developed, taking in other subscribers. Non-Jews from Polish groups who were connected to the Polish Sokol Library came because our library could provide the best, the newest, and the most international books. In 1931, the library had over 3,000 books and also subscribed to six daily newspapers, and periodicals in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew. It arranged literary lectures and presentations on art and literature.

 

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A corner in the library of the drama club

[Page 110]

At first, the library was led by Meir Taler and Moshe David (Bar-David); later they were joined by Yitzhak Nadler, Godel Biterman, and Yoelik Vidhof. Tantsa Rotenberg and Mendel Tonis contributed a great deal to the development of the library.

The library became a symbol of Jewish culture and sociability.

It is hard to remember chronologically when each play was performed, but I will try to keep a certain order.

In the years 1920-1921, we performed Batlen [Idler] or Hochzeit far Shpas [Wedding for a Joke] under the direction of Mates Thaler; participants: Mates Thaler, Miss Tirkisher, Zelig Sigel, Malka Moshel, Sana Vinter and so on.

Later, Hertsele Meyukhes [Hertsele the Aristocrat] took place, directed by Aizenberg, with Anshel Sigel, Zelig Sigel, Salka Reikh, Moshel, Sana Vinter, and so on.

[Also] in 1920-1921, Der Yeshive-Bokher [The Yeshiva Boy] of Yitzkhak Zlotorewski [was produced], directed by Aizenberg. Rejuvenation from the young, special scenery put together with the technical leadership of Moshe David (Bar David) and Khaim Gutshtein was part of the performance. The main roles were acted by Shlomo Pomerantz (he, later, was called Sala Pomer and also was called a Polish man-of-letters), Mendele Hekht, Benyamin Mitelman, Moshel, Anshel and Zelig Sigel, Gutsa Taksel, Rozka Flam and so on. Shlomo Pomerantz made an effort to be in his role la the Polish artist, Aszwentowicz; he succeeded to a great extent.

A search for a better repertoire and a better director started in the era of 1922-1923 and we began to present the plays of Jacob Gordin. At that time, a very capable director named Veisberg arrived. He came from Staninslawów [Ivano-Frankivsk].

Veisberg already had many years of experience as a director of an amateur dramatic troupe and he made constructive use of the experience with us and helped a great deal to raise the level of the dramatic group.

In the years 1924-1926, many of Jacob Gordin's plays were produced under Veisberg's direction and with success. Among others, the so-called Dankbare Dramen [Grateful Dramas] allowed many actors to show their talent.

In [Jacob Gordin's] Got, Mentsh un Tayvl [God, Man, and Devil] Mendele Hekht and Benyamin Mitelman in the main roles put together their creation with great success. Zelig Sigel, Miss Karten, and others also took part. Appearing in the prologue was Shlomo Veinshtein's brother, who had come on a visit from America and very much wanted to act in the prologue and did so very well. And when he left to return to America, he donated a considerable sum to the library.

[Page 111]

Der Vilder Mentsh [The Wild Man] by Jacob Gordin, was produced with Mendele Hekht in the main role and he acted so well that the scenes almost enraged the audience.

Mishka Leider took part in several performances, mostly in a main role, when there was something to sing as well as in dramatic roles.

Along with her husband, Rotman, she acted in [Leon] Kobrin's Dorfsyung [Village Youth], as well as with Gitel Zilber (Bar-David); with their naturalistic acting, they brought a new note to the dramatic acting. Veisberg directed. We performed two comedies by Moliere, The Miser, and The Imaginary Invalid, with B. Mitelman and Gusta Taksel.

Further on, with Der Shtumer [The Mute], under the leadership of Veisberg, we entered a more modern, literary, atmospheric, and unfamiliar mood, getting accustomed to living more psychologically in the roles and in the interpretations of a play. Meir Thaler and Shlomo Pomerantz gave the performance their stamp.

A new era, as well as a new mood, began with Peretz Hirshbein under the direction of Shlomo Redlikh. Peretz Hirshbein gave a different dramatic substance to the acting and Shlomo Redlikh a new rendering from the director, as well as a different communal attitude and atmosphere in the club itself.

P. Hirshbein's Di Grine Felder [The Green Fields], with Sana Vinter in the main role brought a fresh breeze of Jewish village life to the stage. Redlikh gave the actor the chance to be independent in the conception of the character of the person and situation in which he found himself and the dramaturg had given him the play, less caricature, less pathos, freer in stage appearance as well as interesting staging. It was an entirely different conception, without any influence from other directors and previously seen performances – with its own face.

In 1928, Redlikh directed J[acob] Gordin's Der Unbekanter [The Stranger]. He infused the prologue with new strengths. The corrupt angel was played by Moshe David (Bar David) and the angel of love by Gitel Zilber with a new manner of acting. In the additional plot, Mordekhai was played by the “Turkish” Meir Thaler, Zelig Sigel, and so on.

Redlikh brought Mark Arenshtein's Vilner Balebesl [Young Gentlemen of Vilna] on the stage with new ornamentation and with great success. Dovidl was played by Moshe David and Gitel Zilber, Di Svester [The Sister]. Those acting with them were Meir Shaler, Yosef Leber, Zelig Sigel, Salke Reikh, Sana Vinter, and many young members of the club. The rehearsals also were interesting and entertaining. With every rehearsal, those taking part enlivened their roles and also penetrated the essence of the drama and plot so that the atmosphere of a real theater studio and acting ensemble was created. There was also no lack of curious and humorous situations that gave charm and joy to this work.

 

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Scenes from plays of the “Yiddishe Kunst”

[Page 112]

It was simply a spiritual, internal experience. They rehearsed with enthusiasm and had pleasure from it until performing.

During the same year, we performed Shenher's Tayvls Vayb [Devil's Wife] with Benyamin Mitelman, Zelig Sigel, and Etala Korten. It was a chamber play with three people and with good ensemble acting.

Searching for a new repertoire, Weisberg suggested [Abraham] Goldfaden's Kishefmakhern [The Sorceress]. Young, fresh singers were brought into the group. Nushka Holander, with her fine voice, played the orphan. Zelig Sigel, with talent and with his natural humor, enlivened his performance as Hotsmakh. Moshe Foygel was the true Bobe-Yakhna of Goldfaden. Etala Korten as well as other new young performers contributed to the success of the performance. A small, young Efraim Shmid showed himself to be a good singer. Sana Vinter, Y. Taub, Mikhael Bilig, and others contributed a great deal of freshness and charm to the performance.

Under Shlomo Redlikh's direction, we performed Peretz Hirshbein's Di Nevole [The Infamy], a realistic piece about another environment (milieu) that was not so well-known in our area.

Three people supported the entire performance; in addition to the people named. Moshe Foygel performed Abresh, with a great deal of talent and feeling. Gitel Zilber in the role of Rayzle, as well as Moshe Dawid in the main role as Mendl, brought a new tone and style of acting to the performance and also to the coming performances. It is hard to be objective

 

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A comedy act with the following participants:

From left to right: David (Bar David) Moshe, Segal Moshe, Noiman, Tzeig Motek, Segal Antzel

[Page 113]

in evaluating their acting, so I will, indeed, be quiet. However, according to the evaluation and reaction of the theater audience after the performance, the performance was equated with a good, artistic professional theater.

At the time, some voices said we should perform operettas. Lapater was the main initiator. He was stubborn and accomplished it. The performance involved a great deal of difficulty as well as large expenses because such an operetta as Goldfagen's Shulamit required appropriate costumes and an orchestra to accompany the piece, besides the need to cast the roles.

However, enough talented singers who did not disappoint and succeeded were found.

The main role, Shulamit, was played by Nushka Holander; performing with Holander were Arye Polak, Lipa Wagshal, and Bashka Citron. The rehearsal of the singers was given to the professional musician, Nota Butenflan, and his band. The rehearsals lasted a long time until the operetta was performed. Finally, everyone was enthusiastic about Shulamit. Later, we performed Bar-Kokhba with a similar success and there was nothing with which to be ashamed.

The main success was with the presentation of Di Dray Matones [The Three Presents] by Y.L. Peretz, dramatized by Hart, music by Khonf Walfstahl (1853-1924), special stage sets painted by Yehuda Feld, a member of our Union. The operetta, as I want to call it, was a musical mastery because it had an operatic character. It took a long time until we performed the play on the stage and there were many difficulties. After long rehearsals, we brought it to the stage and with great success. In short, 40 people took part. Dovidele Mihlshtok played “The Little Soul” and among others taking part were M. Bilig, M. Rozen, L. Wagshal, and Nushka Holander.

As the performance was a great success, we traveled to other cities and performed in Tarnopol as well as in Rohatyn.

The so-called light review and entertainment evenings were carried out by Moshe Sigl with a great deal of charm. For Chanukah and Purim, he produced review evenings with a repertoire of modern one-act plays, sketches, and timely [pieces], as well as folksongs. Sometimes a local, critical song evoked a little resentment with the kehile [organized Jewish community] elite, but the audience had pleasure from it.

I want to remember that in 1925 Landesberg created a mandolin orchestra (in the club) that developed well and occasionally gave concerts.

At the beginning of 1929, Shlomo Redlikh began to thoroughly learn Dem Dukus [The Duke] by Alter Katsizne; it took a long time because a large number of people took part and we needed a special place in which to hold rehearsals. We did so in a private

 

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Scenes from plays of the “Yiddishe Kunst”

[Page 114]

apartment at Gitel Zilber's garret. The rehearsals provided an interesting, friendly, intimate atmosphere. The roles were divided into small groups according to the character of the people and they actually showed what they could do with a great deal of talent. Yoshe Leber played the “old duke” [and] Moshe Dawid the “pious convert.” The “servant” [was] Meir Thaler, the “lessee,” Sana Vinter, and Gitl Zilber “his daughter.” The other roles were also well cast.

Moshe Dawid and Ben-Tzion Freindlikh and the two Haftel sisters prepared special costumes and the success was so great that it was talked about for a long time. We prepared to travel to the provinces with the play, but a fire destroyed the costumes and nothing became of [the plans].

The performance was the swan song of Shlomo Redlikh's directorship in our club. We have to thank him as director, as a cultural pedagogue, and as a good person who with his personality brought a great deal of humanity and a warm friendly atmosphere to our group.

 

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Members of the Drama Club “Yiddish Kunst” During the farewell party
honoring Bar-David Moshe on his Aliyah, Brzezany, 3/3/1934

The lower row from right to left: Dudileh Mihlshtok, Tzeig Motek, Sara Taub, Philip Biterman, S. Kasten, Mordekhai Rozentzveig, Vitriol, Vidhof Yoel, Sheintzia Brik, Taub, Moshe Pekhter, ……, Simkha Shekhter
Second row: Bernard Leider, Tontzio Rutenberg, Mendel Tonis, Meir Taler, Yitzkhak Nadler, Binyamin Mitelman, Tirkelfeld Fuks, Moshe David (Bar-David), Bat Rivkah, Tova David, Leib Mitelman, Zelig Segal, Betzalel Salomon, Yosef Laber, Moshe Segal
Third row: Vortzel, Moshe Podoshin, Polber, H. Frid, Fridel Oks, Reitman, Ostrover-Fishman Hersh, Haftel Sonika, …., Don Altshiler, Haber-Lufter, First, B. Feld, Morekhai Khayut, ….
Fourth row: Tzeig, Gviretz, Avraham Katz, Kravitz, Salomon, Dov Holander, …., Feibush Biterman, Shtern,…, Godel Biterman, Yosef Erlikh
Upper row: David Zeifert, Simkha Shvartz, Noiman, Breitel, Bilig, Yosef Shvartz-Cohen, …… Tinter

[Page 115]

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The honorary certificate given to Moshe Bar-David in appreciation of his fruitful activity with the drama club. The certificate was illustrated by Yehuda Feld.

[Page 116]

I took over the direction after Redlikh. My approach to the dramatic material was different from what it was before. First of all, young, fresh acting strength, [and I had] a conception of learning a piece thoroughly, which took on a special expression with a modern character, based on a prepared book of direction, previously thought through, [a set] playing time and the erection of a stage. [I required] easily transformed sets, so that the production always ended early, not as before when the audience went home late, after midnight.

My first production was assisting in the work that Mates Thaler had begun and could not complete. The play was called, Toytshtrof [Death Penalty]. The second, independent performance was a Ukrainian play translated by Moshe Sigel, which he carried around for a long time and no one had dared to produce. The author was a [woman] and the play carried the title, Di Legende fun der Alter Mil [The Legend of the Old Mill]. Modernly prepared stage sets, so-called Reinhard sets, made it possible for the theater audience to go home early, at 10:30. It was a modern performance that was compared to the VYKT [Varshever Yidisher Kunst Theater – Warsaw Jewish Art Theater] performances that were seen in our province from time to time, with Janos and Zygmunt Turkow and Ida Kaminska. There was no lack of compliments. Then I presented Yakov Prager's dramatic-poetic piece, Der Nisoyen [The Temptation]. The language was poetic, in verse and many lines rhymed. It was not easy for the young actors to carry out and to keep the rhythm of the verses.

Soon, the hundred rehearsals gave perfection to the performances and ensemble and it was really a success. The rehearsals were themselves an experience. Everyone took part in them with enthusiasm and great interest [which led] to the success of the drama. It was a little difficult to build the mass scenes because almost all of those taking part were young, inexperienced

 

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The orchestra in a comedy ball

 

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The Drama Club's orchestra in the housewarming assembly for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1st of April, 1925

[Page 117]

 

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The play “Three Presents” by the members of the Drama Club “Yiddishe Kunst”

 

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An address to the Drama Club's members to issue a 20th-anniversary pamphlet

 

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Excerpts from the Polish Yiddish newspapers about the Drama Club “Yiddishe Kunst”

[Page 118]

actors, and had never stood on the [floor]boards of the theater. However, after half a year of rehearsals, the drama was performed. Costumes were borrowed from the Stanislawów Dramatic “Goldfaden Union.” The Scenery was painted by Yehuda Feld and the technical direction was carried out by Ben-Tzion Freindlich. The main roles were played by Shimon Meiblum – the landowner, previously “Leibik the tailor.” Dovidl, his son – Moshe Dawid; Surala Taub created the daughter of the landowner, with a great deal of charm and feeling. Berka Holender, Merkur, and many young members of the union contributed to the success of the performance.

In 1932, I led Di Khurba [The Destruction] by M.B. Stein in the newly built Jewish National House. The scenery was painted by Yehuda Feld and the technical direction was done by Ben-Tzion Freindlikh.

Twice we presented the performance at the request of the audience that had not seen it but had heard about it. The income went to the Jewish orphans' home. They also sold the entry tickets. This time, those visiting the theater were those who rarely attended our performances, mostly Polish-speaking Jews from the professions, the intelligentsia, who bought theater tickets to support the orphanage. And

 

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The management of the “Drama Club” in 1938

Sitting from right to left: Podoshin Moshe, Taler Meir, Dr. Feld, Dr. Wagshall (Shaklai), Vidhof Yoel
Standing from right to left: Biterman Godel, Feiering, Shekhter Simkah, Lebel, Rozentzveig Motek

[Page 119]

here they had an unexpected surprise. They did not know that the Dramatic Union could present such well-acted dramas. They compared the acting to the Vilner Trupe [Vilna Troupe], which adhered to Brener's conception of the presentation: light, color, and voice. In 1933-1934, I began a thorough study of Aaron Zeitlin's Yosef Chaim Brener. The conception was of light, color, and voice, with pure young actors. I wanted to create a production that we had not yet seen in our small city. I wanted to challenge myself with a daring that could be a success or a fiasco. My sudden departure for Eretz Israel ended the rehearsals and also my theatrical activity in the union Yidishe Kunst [Jewish Art] in Brzezany. I believe that besides one try-out performance by Moshe Sigel and the later Dray Matones, the dramatic activity of the club ended.

The library was active until the Second World War and then disappeared with all of the Jews who lived and participated in the small, cultural group whose trace remains sacred for all of those who remember them with love and sadness.

 

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