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[Page 175]

Artists and Cantors

 

About the Jewish Theater in our city

by Yehudah Ziglevaks

Translated by Sara Mages

The moments, in which I clung to the theater for the rest of my life, are well guarded in my memories from the days of my youth. It happened when I participated in the presentation of the play “Di kishufmakhern,” (The Witch) by Goldfaden, which was performed by a troupe of amateur actors on the Jewish stage in Akkerman. Then, I fell in love, with every fiber of my soul, with the Jewish folk theater. The participants in this play constituted a small group of cultural people in our city at the beginning of this century whose challenge and mission was to bring the theater to the Jews of Akkerman. The most prominent among them were: Pesach Kleiman, Gedalia Goldfled, Yeshayahu Greenstein, the artist Puterman, Brofman, Brudsky, Ms. Puchslman, Ms. Feiland and others.

In their artistic activity they were mostly influenced by the theater of Avraham Goldfaden in Iasi [Romania], and the visit of theater troupes from Odessa and Vilna who became well known for their artistic level.

In the 1920s, due to various reasons, and mostly because of the frequent changes of government, this group ceased its activity and dispersed. In those days I hadn't thought, even in my wildest dreams that I - a simple and modest boy from the lowest layer of society, would be lucky to open a new chapter in the Jewish theater in our city, but so it happened.

From early childhood I clung to the Jewish folk song. I was fascinated by the joy and sorrow of this song that our ancestors, and forefathers, immersed their yearning and longing in it. I organized actors for the days of Purim (Purim-shpiler), teams for entertainment at weddings and other celebrations. I had no real pretension for theatrical acting and I also didn't attribute any importance to my occupation or my hobby.

In the years 1926-1927, I made the first steps for the establishment of a theatre together with my friends Solomon Guzman (now - a resident of Haifa.) and Grisha Misionezhink (today - Tzvi Gilady, a member of Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk). The name of the troupe that we established was “Das Dramatische Vinkel” (the artistic corner). Our first experience in this framework was the presentation of the historical play, “The Viceroy” by Feyman, from the period the inquisition in Spain. It took considerable effort and, I wouldn't exaggerate if I say that each one of us, the initiators and the players, invested his best efforts and talents in this play. Materially, our situation was dire. Public officials and the public institutions didn't take us seriously and haven't extended any assistance. We encountered many difficulties to find a suitable hall to hold the rehearsals and we didn't have the appropriate customs, stage sets, makeup, in one word: we lacked all the items that without them a theatrical troupe cannot exist. Our requests for help - weren't answered. I remembered that when we turned to Mr. Tchichelnitzky, the principle of the government primary school “Talmud Torah,” with a request to allow us to hold rehearsals in the evenings in one of the school's room - we encountered an absolute refusal. Therefore, our first rehearsals took place in the school yard, outdoors…

Some time later we found kind of a shelter at the private home of our friend, Lyoba Wilderman, in Izmaylovskoye Street. The premiere was held at the municipal theatre “Regina Maria,” which was owned by Schneider and Sklyarov, and it was huge success. The next day the local press noted the professional level of our troupe and emphasized the impressive victory of the new Jewish dramatic troupe in Akkerman. It is noteworthy that most of the participants in the play were young men and women, sons and daughters of the simple people. I will mention those that I remember from those days: Yisrael Gonopolsky, Yakov Kushnir, Yitzchak Gordon, Ajzik Eisenberg, Zev (Volodya) Zeplin, Polik Grohovcky, Peretz Kleinberg, Ms. Lyoba Wilderman, Reya Goldenstein, Pusya Voronovskaya, the couple Schuman, Moni Tishler and others.

Especially noteworthy is the violinist Sklyarov, Reuven Kaplinsky, Filya Lushak and the pianists Fima Goldman and Ms. Tabachnik. Shakhnazarov arranged and conducted the music and the make-up artist was Belkin (the last two were actors

[Page 176]

from the local Ukrainian theatre who extended their help). I should also mention the help of the official, Kalman Frechter, who obtained the permit from the police. The promoter, Julius Talmazan, also helped us to some extent.

Over time we managed to bring to the Jewish stage a long line of plays, concerts, balls and evening entertainment which were accompanied by raffles and dances that lasted till dawn. The public got used to us, was attracted to our plays and gradually we won the appreciation of young and old who streamed to our performances at the halls of cooperative “Frima,” the halls of the high-school, “Talmud Torah” and others.

When we became successful we left for performances in the provincial towns, presented plays in Shabo, Tatarbunary, Artsyz, Siert and other locations and received a warm welcome. We handed over our revenue to charitable funds and various public institutes. The play, which won a special success, was “Di tsvey Kuni-lemels” [The Fanatic, or The two Kuni-Lemls] by Goldfaden, “Der Katarznik,” the comedy “The bride of three grooms,” and also plays of I. L. Peretz, Shalom Aleichem and Yakov Sternberg. I was the comedian of the troupe, and if I'm allowed to say about myself, I succeeded mainly in character roles and comic songs which became hits because they were being heard later in every Jewish family.

Generally, many troupes and famous actors, such as M. Fishzun, P. Bartov, the brothers Fridman, the Kochanski family, Dina Kenig, Sidi Tal, Adolf Tepner, Yitzchak Chavis and others, came to our city Akkerman. Of course we received advice and guidance from the famous actors for our artistic activities. At the end, I was forced to travel to Bucharest to receive the title of professional actor because it was an explicit demand of the authoritative authority of our city. And indeed, I successfully completed a special course, was successful in the exams and received a certificate confirming that I was a professional actor. My friend, Solomon Guzman, also received such a certificate and devoted many years to the Jewish theater in Bessarabia.

In 1947, I was invited to participate in the theatre, “Sevilla Pastor,” and wandered with this theatre in the cities of Czechia, Austria and Belgium. In the course of time new faces appeared on the stage in Akkerman and I had the satisfaction that I was among those who paved the way and saw those who continue the road that I've started. Of those, who continued on our way, I will mention: Shulka Hacham, Yakov Nodelman, Yisrael Segel, Yafim and his sister Janet Ludizenski, Klara Sverdlik, Roza Zeider, Anya Maglnik, Zina Polonskaya and others.

In 1940, with the conquest of Akkerman by the Red Army and the establishment of the Soviet administration, also came the end to the artistic activity in the city and the Jewish amateur troupe dispersed.

 

akk176.jpg
The amateur theatre in Akkerman, 1928
From the play “The Viceroy.” In the photo Shlomo Guzman as Sebastian and Misionzink as Alonzo

 


[Page 177]

The Drama Clubs

by Frima Fejland

Translated by Sara Mages

It wouldn't be an exaggeration if we say that despite the fact that it was an amateur theater, it was theater of quality that its actors acted as if they were professional. It was founded under the influence of the troupes and the Russian theaters from Odessa who often visited our city and a large crowd of Jews, lovers of the theatre, flocked to them. Odessa had a great influence on Akkerman and radiated on it from its spirit and culture.

At the late nineties of the past century, a Russian club, which called itself “Literaturnyi-Artisticheski Kjudozheveny Teater,” meaning, a theatre for literary-artistic acting, was organized in Akkerman. Over the years it changed its name to “The Russian literary drama club.” In fact, it was kind of a school for the study of acting and artistic reading. In 1900, I was among the students of this club together with other young Jews who showed tendency for acting.

This club was associated with a similar institution in Odessa, “The school of theater,” that its teachers and counselors also served, at the same time, as teachers and consolers in the Akkerman course. From time to time the club presented various plays before a limited audience and in order to advance its students it brought famous actors from Odessa who appeared in the plays together with the students of our course. In doing so, the leaders of the club assumed that they would be able to provide fluency and stability in acting to their students. I remember that among those, who appeared with the students, were famous Russian actors like Maious Pettifer and his wife, Svoboda, Ronitch (one of the founders of the Russian cinema) and others.

In 1910, several Jewish students of the Russian course got together and decided to try to establish a Jewish troupe. Three reasons prompted them to do so: A. their desire to improve the image of Jewish Akkerman. B. they assumed that the Jewish intelligentsia would support a troupe that present Jewish plays and it will also serve as a barrier against excessive Russifinaction. C. their desire to release the artistic powers that were imprisoned in several Jewish actors, and by doing so to cause additional artistic awakening and bring a release of cultural-artistic potential among the Jewish youth.

The driving forces of this club were: Felick Doyben and Pieterman. The first had a good voice and a pleasant appearance and received a lot of applause when he performed before the audience. Many young people, who eventually became activists in the Jewish public life, gathered in the club. Among them Shabtai Novak who was later the director of the Jewish Bank, the pharmacist Geisman, the lawyer Grisha Echselrod, Berta Fidelman, the writer of this lines whose nickname as an actress was Amirf (the opposite of Frima), Pesach Klaiman, Roselia Warszawskaya, Grisha Adlizki (the owner of the flourmill), the brothers Aharon and Ozer Krasik, Chaya Brofman and her brother David, Max Krolick (activist in the Jewish community), the cantor David Feldman and his sister Fania and others. A choir also operated next to the club and Lisa Helman and Chaya Brofman were among its soloists. Belkin, the troupe's make-up artist, was also the make-up artist of the Russian troupe. The shows were held at the Schneider-Skliarov cinema. The last was an avid music lover and also conducted the choir. Since our plays were held every Saturday evening we were nicknamed “Sobrertnikim” - Sabbath observers.

I remember that the first play that we presented was “Scattered and widespread” by Hirschbein. After it, we presented “Shulamit” by Goldfaben, “Money and Disgrace,” “Chasia the orphan,” “The slaughtering,” “To be a man” and others. We deliberately chose plays with Jewish topics and way of life because we wanted to bring the Jewish audience closer to our troupe and also prove that “the situation is not yet desperate” and we do not have to be ashamed of Jewish writers and dramatists in comparison to those of the Russians. Only after we realized that we achieved this goal - we started to present plays of writers of other nations such as “The Wild Duck” and “Nora” by Ibsen, “Thoughts” by Andreyev, Potash and Perelmuter etc.

[Page 178]

After each of our performance a review was published in the local newspaper, “Akkermanskaya Gazetta,” and we, the actors, waited anxiously for this review because we didn't get other newspapers. The rehearsals took place in my apartment and also at the Piterman's house. It is worth mentioning that we treated our role with reverence, we appeared on time to each rehearsal and memorized the text very well. In one word, we have done everything on our side to gain success and delight the viewers. And indeed, the audience responded to us, the stands were full and there were also Russian theater-lovers who came to our shows despite the fact that they didn't understand Yiddish. No one wanted to pay for our expenses and our only income was from the selling of tickets. This matter proved that there were many in the Jewish community who streamed to our shows. It is possible to say, without fear of exaggeration, that each new show that we brought to the stage became an experience for the audience and, of course, also for the actors.

The Jewish theater existed for about sixteen years with the above mentioned group of actors. Various reasons caused its dissolution. Doiben Felik, one of the main activists, immigrated to the United States, others also immigrated, financial worries made it necessary to devote more time to various businesses and occupations, and so the curtain fell.

Fell but not completely. Apparently our toil wasn't in vain. The seed that we planted - was well absorbed and many years later a Jewish artistic troupe, which lasted until the entrance to the Soviets to the city in 1940, was established again in Akkerman

(Written by Nisan Amitai - Stembul)

 

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A notice for the Symphony Orchestra concert

 

[Page 182]

Cantors and Cantorial Music

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

akk182.jpg
The cantor Gottlieb and his choir

 

The Akkerman Jews had a special connection with cantors. In this respect there was no difference between religious and non- religious, fanatic and heretic. When the cantor was famous and he was known to have a pleasant voice and a special style, everybody came to listen to the “prayer and singing.” Perhaps the proximity to Odessa awakened the strong feelings for cantorial music in the Akkerman Jews, since Odessa was famous for its great cantors, Razomani, Pinchas Minkovski, David Roitman and others, who filled the synagogues in any place they visited. The cantors were aware of the fact that in Akkerman there was a great number of “mavens” in cantorial music and they never skipped Akkerman during their travels. We shall describe here several of the Akkerman cantors; most of them passed away but some are still with us, and some are still leading the prayers.

 

Yakov Gottlieb

Known by his nickname “Yankel the hoarse” or “Yankel with the husky voice” – he certainly deserves to be the first on the list. He was born in 1852 Trostyanitz near Odessa, was blessed with a pleasant alto voice and was a member of the cantor Betzalel Odesser's choir. For some time he was cantor in Odessa and was very appreciated. After he married the daughter of a rich man in Akkerman he moved to Akkerman and was cantor in the Bet Midrash. The musical critic Ycht wrote about him: “He was a great artist” – and the Akkerman Jews liked that. The great cantor Yerucham the Short One invited him once to the Sabbath prayer in his Berdichev synagogue. After the prayer he said: He should not be called Yankel the hoarse, but Yankel the slaughterer, because with his prayer he slaughters all the other cantors…
His voice had become husky when, during a pogrom he hid in a damp cellar and caught a severe cold. But he did not lose his charm and grace. His special Nosach [prayer version] and pleasant music attracted crowds of Jews to the Bet Midrash. He was the teacher of many cantors who later became famous, among them: Mordechai Patashnik, who had been a member of his choir, Pesach Crasnov, who was later cantor in Montreal, New York and Brooklyn, and others.

[Page 183]

akk183.jpg
Cantor Moshe Kogan with his choir
First row from right to left: Yochanan Shoshok (the conductor), Unknown, Mote'le Gershfeld, Avraham Neiman, Yehuda Siegelwachs, the cantor Moshe Kogan, Sioma Itzkowitz, Sheftel Zuckerman, Siegelwachs
Second row: Magazinik, Kutchuk, Peretz Kleinbord, Yakobsohn, Zunis, Gordon, Unknown, Unknown, Pesach Kleinman

 

He died young, in 1900, while reciting the prayer Av Harachamim.

His three sons followed in their father's path, were blessed with pleasant voices and continued the line of the Gottlieb cantors: Aharon Dov was cantor in the Bet Midrash in Akkerman after his father's death, and served six years. After the 1905 pogroms he moved to Sadigura and then to Baungwar, and finally to Newcastle in England. As a child he sang in his father's choir with his sweet soprano voice and learned from him a great deal. He composed the music for many prayers of Sabbath and the “Three Festivals” [Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot].

Aharon Dov's son, Yankel's grandson, who sang in his father's choir in Baungwar and Newcastle, continued the tradition and is now cantor in England.

David Gottlieb, Yankel's second son, also had a pleasant voice, learned the prayers from his father and inherited his qualities. At first he was cantor in the Bet Midrash and later in several towns in Russia. He perished in the Holocaust.

Avraham Gottlieb, the third son, also learned from his father, was a member of his father's choir, was cantor in the Bet Midrash and later in London.

 

Mordechai Leib Yakobsohn

At the time Yankel the hoarse was cantor in the Bet Midrash, Mordechai Leib Yakobsohn was cantor in the Great Synagogue. He had a strong voice, but he did not attract the crowds as did Yankel, because of his somewhat cold and impersonal performance. In an article by M. Greenstein published in Hamelitz 246 in 1894 it was related that Jews gathered in the Great Synagogue to pray for the recovery of the ill Emperor. The representatives of the Municipality and the Authorities were present as well. The cantor was M. L. Yakobsohn, who was praised in that he “sanctified the name of the Jewish People in front of the officials, who listened to his prayer and singing, and were astonished by his strong and beautiful voice, and asked him to appear with his choir in the theater, in a charity performance for the hospital.”

[Page 184]

Moshe Kogan

He was cantor in the Great Synagogue and music teacher in the “Tarbut” Hebrew School. He was an active Zionist, was involved in community matters and founded the Zionist choir Hazamir [The Nightingale]. He had a beautiful and pleasant tenor voice. During Holidays and during the “Days of Awe” [Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur] He was accompanied by a choir. Since he smoked much, his voice became husky and he had to stop, to the regret of the members of the Great Synagogue.

 

Nissan Truker

He took Moshe Kogan's place in the Great Synagogue. He was born in Kishinev to his father R'Chaim, himself cantor and shochet [ritual slaughterer and examiner]. As a child he helped his father in his prayers in the Synagogue in Cãlãraºi, as one of the “singers.” Yona Danziger, a famous cantor in Kishinev, taught him the fundamentals of the profession as well as solfège. At the age of 21 he was already cantor in Focºani and later in Bucharest and Gala?i. He was invited to the Great Synagogue in Akkerman and won the sympathy of the synagogue-goers by his pleasant voice and beautiful praying. He was active in public life and was member of the “Tarbut” committee. In 1949 he made Aliya to Israel and prayed in the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv and other places.

 

Mendel Malkin

He was born in Akkerman in 1906 and received a religious education at home, by his father Rabbi Israel Malkin. He was a student at the Kishinev Music School and studied voice development with Professor Angelo Disconti. In 1924 he began working as cantor in the Ahdut-Kodesh synagogue in Buhuºi (Romania) and continued there until 1940. Then he relocated to Bessarabia.

 

Israel Swet

He was a pupil of the well-known cantor Razomani. He began his career as cantor in the Craftsmen's Synagogue in Akkerman and later worked in the Great Synagogue. He had a strong tenor voice and his prayers had a special sweetness – and he became famous in the synagogue-world. I. Schildkraut noted that when Israel left Akkerman it was difficult to find a cantor to replace him.

 

Zvi Kernkurs

He was born in Kishinev, the son of R'Moishe the leader of the ritual slaughterers. He was a member of the choir of the famous cantors Avrahm Kalechnik and Yehuda-Leib Kilimenik. His Nosach [version of prayer] was traditional, as he had learned from his teacher Zusia Serebreinik. Starting in 1924 he worked as an independent cantor. During several years he served as cantor in the Craftsmen's Synagogue and later in the Zivchei-Tzedek synagogues in Gala?i and Bucharest. He made Aliya and prayed in the Ohel-Shem and Bilu Synagogues in Tel Aviv.

 

Ben-Tzion Keiselman

He was born in Akkerman, the son of Eli-Ber Keiselman, a pious craftsman who was also Gabbay in the Kloiz and was nicknamed “Eli the tinsmith.” His own nickname was “Bashke the Cantor.” He served as cantor on a yearly basis in the Craftsmen's Synagogue in Akkerman and later he moved to England and was cantor there as well.

 

David Feldman

He was the son of a wealthy baal-bait [respected man, lit. “House-owner”] and served as cantor in the Great Synagogue. He had a beautiful tenor voice. From Akkerman he moved to Bandar and from there to Czernowitz. Made Aliya in 1944, settled in Tel Aviv and was cantor in several synagogues, among them the Great Synagogue in Tel Aviv.

 

Moshe Levitzki

He was born in a small town in the Minsk District. At the age of 18 he arrived in Odessa and participated in the choirs of the famous cantors Pinchas Minkovski and Efraim-Zalman Razomani. His first position as cantor was in Akkerman, and after he became famous he moved to Kiev. He was born in 1881.

 

Chaim Barkan

After the Gabbays of the Great Synagogue fired the cantor M. L. Yakobsohn they hired Chaim Barkan to take his place. Barkan had great success and won the hearts of the public. He was cantor there for a period of many years.

[Page 185]

Meir (Mario) Botoshanski

 

akk185.jpg
Meir (Mario) Botoshanski

 

He was born in 1913 to a wealthy family in Akkerman, his father was Sioma Botoshanski. As a boy of 8 years he won the admiration of all his listeners when he sang solo as a member of the synagogue choir. His first teacher was the cantor Moshe Cohen, who taught him the fundamentals. When he was thirteen he attracted everyone's attention when he sang at his own Bar-Mitzva party. He went to the “Tarbut” School in Akkerman. In view of his marked musical talent his parents sent him to Kishinev, where he studied music with Professor Zacharov and at the same time studied at the Magen David Yeshiva, under the supervision of the well-known Rav Tzirlson. He continued his musical education in Milano, Italy and later in Rome. In Rome he attracted the attention of the Rabbi of Rome, Prof. Angelo Sacerdati, who invited him to take the position of cantor in the largest Sephardic synagogue in Rome – a very rare occurrence for a cantor of Askenazic descent…

Cantor M. Botoshanski had high aspirations in the area of prayer music and singing in general, and went to the United States to further his musical education. He studied music and voice development with the greatest experts in the field and appeared with the greatest cantors in the USA. Very soon he acquired fame as a unique commentator of Jewish and Israeli music and was often invited to give concerts and appearances on the radio. During 20 years he substituted for the well-known singer and cantor Richard Toker in the Adat Israel synagogue in the Bronx and later was invited to be cantor in the Sha'arei Torah synagogue in Brooklyn. Presently he is cantor in Florida, USA.
Among the Akkerman born who were members of the synagogue choir and became later famous cantors abroad we should mention also the cantors Talmezan, Shoshtchuk and Dorshkind. In addition to all those that we have mentioned above, many of the best cantors performed in Akkerman as visiting cantors, among them: Rozumani, David Roitman, Moshe Steinberg and others.

 

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