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[Page 220]

Drama Circles

by Malka Top–Kartsovitsh, Holon

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Our town Nowy Dwor loved Yiddish theater and the living Yiddish language. Jewish artists were glad to visit our town and had an intimate relationship with their audience. Despite that fact that Nowy Dwor was very close to Warsaw and that we enjoyed theater, concerts and opera there, we nevertheless formed local amateur troupes. We presented Yiddish plays with local talent and the productions were a big hit.

The various professional troupes that visited Nowy Dwor in the years before World War I would perform in the firehouse or in the wedding hall of Ahron Rabinovitsh. In later years, they would use the big brick building at the Polish market that belonged to a Christian woman, Froy Zdanovitsh, and also sometimes the hall owned by the soda–water manufacturer Leybl Junker on Zakro[czymska] Street. The theater troupes that visited weren't always of a high caliber, but every visit was financially successful.

The local drama circles were recruited from theater lovers and from people who were drawn to and had a talent for the stage. With love and youthful energy they undertook the task of producing plays about Jewish life from the beloved authors Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Gomberg, Hishbeyn, Kobrin, et. al. Most of the amateur actors came from the working class, were influenced by Socialist ideals, and saw drama as a way to awaken consciousness and to raise up the Jewish working community.

Among the first productions that I remember was the play “Broken Hearts,” by Z. Libin, which my father took me to see when I was a young child. As far as I remember, the cast include Hela and Blume Yerozalimski (“Dead Hershele's” daughters), Ester Mundlak, Herman Radziner, Yenkl “Vaske”, Yehiel Holtsman, Avraham Shulbank.

Another play from that period performed by local amateurs was a Purim play, “Ahasueras,” with Rivke Shalnker, Rokhl Goldberg (Peshkes), Itshe Bornshteyn (Bratyes), Avraham Shulbank, Yehiel Holtsman (Moyshe Mekhls). Other performers in plays produced at that time were the Finklshteyn (Fayfers) sisters, Roza Zaltsman, Fogel and Mogelnitski.

In 1915, “The Jewish Soul” was presented in the firehouse, with the participation of Khaim Tishler, Avraham Gothelf (the hairdresser), Elka Top–Kozak, Rifke Landsman, Khava Nieviadomski (Dzhik), Dovid Top, Moyshe Shladovitsh, Velvl Feferberg, Pelte Menukhes and Avraham Menukhes (the sons of Meyer Yehiel) and Srulke Zaydnberg. The director was Zhukovarski, an actor who had wound up in Nowy Dwor during the German occupation in World War I and worked on building the bridge over the Vistula.

In that same year, 1915, the educational association was established in Mordkhe Lipshteyn's building on Warszawska Street. The educational association organized a chorus under the direction of Yitshak Shtshigelski (son of the well known innkeeper Leyzer Shtshigelski). He was a talented violinist and had studied in the Warsaw Conservatory. Every Saturday, the chorus would

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perform and delight the audience with various workers' songs.

The association also had a drama circle, thanks to the well–known dentist Shmuel Grabman, a great admirer of Yiddish literature. He was a splendid reader and his readings of Sholem Aleichem's work inspired his audiences.

In 1916 the drama circle presented “Scattered and Dispersed” by Sholem Aleichem, directed by Shmuel Grabman, assisted by Berl Bershteyn, with performances by Berl Bershteyn, Elka Top–Kozak, Malke Top–Kartsovitsh, Rivke Landsman, Khane Landau (Kupek's daughter), Baltshe Kristnfraynd, Khaye Kriger, Dovid and Shmuel Top, Ben Tsion Landsman, Elye and Khaim Finklshteyn, Yisroel Leyb Levinshteyn and Nisn Shteynberg.

In 1916 the drama circle presented the well–known play “Uriel Acosta,” by Karl Gutskov. The director was Itskovitsh, who was not originally from Nowy Dwor. The players were Baltshe Kristnfraynd; Khaye Kriger; Dovid, Elke and Malke Top; Khaim Tishler; Khaim Finklshteyn; Elye Finklshteyn; and Nisn Shteynberg.

Each production gave us further encouragement. We began to feel in our artistic glory and gave increasingly frequent performances, which were a treat for the theater lovers in town. Our amateurs put in a lot of effort, practiced every word, refined every movement on the stage, until the performance was as polished as our director Shmuel Grabman desired and demanded.

In 1917 we produced “The Yeshiva Boy,” by Zolotarevski, performed by Dovid and Malke Top, Baltshe Kristnfraynd, Yosef Shklanka, Yankev Rotshteyn and Yisroel Leyb Levinshteyn.


The Dramatic Section of the Educational Association, May, 1917
From right to left: Landsman, L. Levinshteyn, Khaim Tishler, Ben Tsion Landsman, Elye Finklshteyn, Malke Top, Shmuel Top, Khaim Finklshteyn, Elke Top, Khayele Kriger, Dovid Top
In foreground: Nish Shteynberg

In background: Bela Kristnfraynd, Burshteyn

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I still remember the staging of Eliokum Tsunzer's song, “The Owl,” and Avraham Reisin's song, “Mayko Mashme Lon [What Do I Hear]?” with Lipe Mundlak and Dov Berish First as yeshiva students.

When we weren't ready to tackle an entire play, we would put on one–act plays, like “Her Sister,” which we produced in 1918 with Dovid Top, Khaye Kriger and Malke Top. That same year we presented “The Eternal Song,” by Mark Orenshteyn, with Dovid Top, Rivke Landsman, Khaim Tishler and Elke Top. The popular actor Jack Levi then directed another one–act play, “Petro Caruso the Opera Singer,” by Roberto Braga, performed by Jack Levi, Dovid and Malke Top, and Herman Abramovitsh. We also performed this play in the nearby town of Jablanna.

Under the direction of Yidl Roznshteyn we put on “With the Flow,” by Sholem Asch, with the cast as follows: Dovid – Yidl Roznshteyn; Hindl – Sore Katsovitsh; Reb Zorekh – Avigdor Garber; Rokhele – Malke Top; kheder boy –Lozer Top. The play was also performed in Nashelsk, on the initiative of the Bundist organization.

The Bund's drama circle put on several performances of Fishl Bimko's “Thieves,” with the brothers Motl and Yosef Roznshteyn and Moyshe Yenkl Nelkin, among others.

The politically unaffiliated drama circle put on a one–act play, “Dilettantes,” by Azsheshkova, with Malke and Hene Top, Motl Roznshteyn, and Sholem Kartsovitsh, as well as “Agents,” by Sholem Aleichem.


The Dramatic Section of the Educational Association for Jewish Workers, June 28, 1917
From right to left, first row: Elke Top, Khaim Tishler, Elye Finklshteyn, Berl Burshteyn, Ben Tsion Landsman, Khaim Finklshteyn, Bela Kristnfraynd
Second row: Dovid Top, Khayele Kriger, Rivke Landsman, Shmuel Top, Nisn Shteynberg, Malke Top, Yisroel Leyb Levinshteyn

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The photographer Yidl Roznshteyn,
Actor and director in the local dramatic circles


In 1925, Shmuel Grabman directed “The Family,” by Gomberg, with the actors Andsha Grabman–Goldfarb, her husband Benekh Goldfarb, Hene Top, Nekhe Gershon, Motl Roznshteyn, and Sholem Kartsovitsh.

In 1930, a drama group consisting of amateurs from various organizations put on several plays, among them Sholem Asch's “God of Vengeance,” directed by Yidl Roznshteyn, with performances by Yidl Roznshteyn, Malke and Hene Top, Sore Kartsovitsh, Keyle Olshinko, and Avigdor Garber. Prior to that, the same inter–organizational group put on “Carcass,” by Peretz Hirshbeyn, with Yidl Roznshteyn as the carcass, Nakhman Novidvorski as Abrush, Malke Top as Reyzl, and Hene Top as the mother.

In 1931, the non–affiliated amateur drama circle put on “The Village Lad,” by Leon Kobrin, directed by Yidl Roznshteyn. A printed program for that production has survived, which lists the players as follows: Yeshaye, an innkeeper – Yankev Pinker; Fruma, his wife – Hene Top; Yenkl Boyleh, their only son – Yidl Roznshteyn; Nokhem Novoselsker, an innkeeper – Itshe Riba; Khayke, his daughter – Sore Kartsovitsh; Hirsh Ber, a fisherman – Yankev Pinker; Khatse Treynes, a fisherman – Shmuel Kokhalski; Zalman tsirls, a fisherman – Shmuel Top; Prokop, a fisherman – Yankev Pinker; Natasha, his grandchild – Malke Kartsovitsh; Itsik Pasternak, a boss – Fayvl Top. Henekh Tik rehearsed the songs in the play with us. Our regular prompter was the quiet, unassuming Shaye Magid, and among the stage crew was Khaim Yoel Kohn.

My father, Hershl Top told me about performances in the past of “The Selling of Joseph” and “Bar Kokhba.” He had also been in an amateur theater group, along with the blind Yehude Stavski, the redhead Isaac Roznfeld, and Moyshe Semiatitski.

In 1925, the theater group of the Zionist organization put on “Our Beliefs” by Sholem Asch, directed by a young man from Sokhatshev, Grunvarg. Of the other participants, I remember Froy Turkeltaub, Leye Segal,Yosef Baranek, Avigdor Garber, Tuvye Frid, Shmuel Kokhalski. The same troupe put on “The Inheritance,” by Gomberg, with performances by the sisters Sonye and Tobke Zilbertal, Gutshe Roznshteyn, Dovid Lerner, Yosef Baranek and Avigdor Garber.

The Bund's drama circle also put on “The Inheritance,” directed by Yidl Roznshteyn, who also acted, along with Hene, Khane and Malke Top and Yosef Roznshteyn.

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The days that our drama group performed were like holidays, with everyone pitching in enthusiastically. We would rehearse a play for almost two months, and for the entire time we lived in a state of anticipation and exaltation. Before we could perform, we had to get the approval of Shmuel Gomberg. Sometimes, after all our rehearsing, he would make us start all over again, with more long weeks of going over the roles, following his approach and understanding. Neither he nor we stinted on time and effort as long as the performance could be as good as possible. Our teacher Shmuel Grabman worked with us early on, when he was in the educational association and later when he was in the trade union association.

The drama circle would also perform at memorials for writers and Socialist leaders, organized by the trade union association.

We should also note the performance by the children of the Yiddish school and Tarbut school. I would always help them with their makeup. It was a pleasure to see them pack Leybl Junker's hall. Parents, brother and sisters – all came to see the little actors on the stage. Shmuel Grabman would sit up front, following the performance with shining eyes, and relishing the sweet singing of the dear children.

We must also mention all the eminent actors and singers who would visit Nowy Dwor from time to time: Hertz Grosbard, Yones Turkov and his wife Diana Blumenfeld, Lola Polman, Lola Lilith, Yosele Kodni, Gadik, Zigmund Turkov and actors from the Vilna Troupe – Dadish, Kamin, Vayslits, Miryem Orleska, Mansdorf, Hirshfeld, Dovid Herman, Rokhl Holtser, et. al.


That concludes my memoirs about the Yiddish theater and drama circles


Reproduction of Program for “The Village Lad”

The Yiddish Amateur Drama Circle in Nowy Dwor
Program of the Premier Performance of “The Village Lad” (Yenkl Boyleh)
A Drama of the Lives of Jewish Fishermen In 4 Acts
By Leon Kobrin
Directed By: Yidl Roznshteyn

Yeshaye, an Innkeeper Yankev Pinker
Fruma, his wife KhaneTop
Yenkl Boyleh, their only son Yidl Roznshteyn
Nokhem Novaselsker, an innkeeper Yeshaye's brother Itshe Riba
Khayke, his daughter Sore Kartsovitsh
Hirsh Ber, a fisherman Yakub Roznshteyn
Khatse Treynes, a fisherman Shmuel Kokhalski
Zalmen Tsirls, a fisherman Shmuel Top
Prokop, a fisherman Yankev Pinker
Natasha, his granddaughter Malke Kartsovitsh
Itshe Pasternak, the boss Fayvl Top

The scene is a village near a large lake in Mohilev Provinces near the Dnieper
Performed Saturday February 28, 1931

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in Nowy Dwor, but I want to add some observations that also concern Yiddish theater, from my youth and through my wanderings after the Holocaust, when all of Jewish Nowy Dwor had been wiped out.

It was my fate to live in the world of Yiddish theater from my early youth. In addition to my participation in Nowy Dwor drama circles, in 1924 I was accepted into Dovid Herman's studio, where they had hopes for my talent for the stage. There I studied with the later renowned actors Mansdorf and Hirshfeld.

My whole family had a talent for acting, my father most of all, and I inherited from them my love for the stage. (My younger brother Ina Top also became famous for his singing in Russia, Poland and now in the Israeli Opera.) After the Holocaust, I again became active in theater.

In 1947, I was with my family in the Displaced Persons camp in Schlupfing, Germany, in the American zone. The survivors, hungry for Yiddish, tried to organize a Yiddish theater. We had no books or scripts so we wrote our own, and every performance was enthusiastically received. I participated in every performance for my entire time there, until the camp was relocated to Baknang, near Stuttgart. There, we theater lovers organized a drama circle and performed in the D.P. camps in Germany.


We should also note the Yiddish literature circle. Right after Poland gained independence, in the 1920's, a group of lovers of Yiddish literature organized a group in Nowy Dwor, unaffiliated with political parties, with the goal of reading and studying the works of our classic writers. The circle included: Hertsl Dubnikov, former secretary of the kehile [organized Jewish community]; Didek Zilbertal; Elye Srebrenik; Leyzer Kornshteyn; Fayvl Kartsovitsh; Motl Roznshteyn; Moyshe Yenkl Gelkin; Sholem Kartsovitsh; Ahron Karstovitsh; Shaye Magid; and the friends, Eva Roznshtey Hene Top and Malke Top–Kartsovitsh.

We met in various places, such as the Sholem Aleichem Library, and the trade union association quarters in Bakman's building. We would meet three times a week for two to three hours and the work went smoothly and successfully. We began with Sholem Aleichem's “Poor and Happy,” “Wandering Stars,” and “The Flood.” We read with tears in our eyes. On Saturday, everyone gave his assessment of the readings.

Our group published a journal with a humor section. To celebrate our publication, we organized a gathering in the big hall of the library. Every contributor read from his work and Shaye Magid, our young poet, read one of his poems. The group also organized a Purim evening in Shimen Note Srebrenik's house, with festive food, greetings and an artistic program where everyone had to display his knowledge. I read “The Pot,” by Sholem Aleichem. The evening was very successful and stimulated further work on behalf of Yiddish literature, which was increasingly appreciated and loved by the youth of Nowy Dwor.


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