by Pinchas Mann
Translated from the Hebrew by Yossi Lerner
|I do not pretend to present an accurate historical overview of the developments at the theater in Yedinitz since I do not have all the information. What is available to me in this area are distant memories and snippets of memories of some people with whom I discussed this topic with.|
The background to the buds of theater
In Yedinitz, the small and traditional town, with established life patterns under the brace of a family framework and the trusted opinion of the community on which commandments (mitzvots) to do and do not do, was at the same time, pressed by the depressing laws from the outside. There was an enormous accumulation of emotions and personal and social desires rejected, therefore seeking for release and expression. It would not be surprising, then, if already at the end of the last century some young people tried to find the expression, how to vent and identification through theater performances.
In fact, the first buds of dramatic circles emerged before all other organizations, not according to the accepted norms in the town.
In the performance of the Purim Player, where the young actors disguised themselves as traditional characters from the Purim scroll and who sometimes tried to incorporate within their play also actual modern topics, you can see the actors in the Jewish town. However, the regular theme limited the possibilities, and what's more, the whole thing was reduced to just one day, once a year. Of course, this one show did not meet the needs and requirements.
According to Shmuel Kormansky, a first attempt was made to organize a theater play at the end of the last century. At its center stood the Ackerman brothers. The show took place in a private home. The following day, the play caused a great uproar, mainly because of the participation of the wife of one of the brothers in the play.
Shmuel Kormansky does not remember the content of the play, and the whole thing was preserved in his memory only thanks to the storm which aroused among the depositors on the public morality. (See page 311 for echoes of this play in Hazfira from 1900).
A real start
Compared to a first attempt at the end of the century which perished while it was in its beginning and did not get a follow-up, the watchmaker Kaminecki, zl, like to tell about a dramatic band established as early as 1912, in which for its actions there was a continuation in various personifications and with player exchanges, of course until the bitter end of the town.
I found the late watchmaker Kaminzki, one of the band's founders, in his shop in Tel Aviv on Lilinblum Street. Despite his extreme age and the hardship of his past life, including the Holocaust, he was still full of vitality and remembered many details from that period.
It's been the years before the First World War, when a group of young men and women rebelled against the conventions of the town life, in the daily routine of studying only Torah, and attracting the burden of earning a living. It was a cheerful bunch who winked at the great world lifestyle. They founded the first football team in Yedinitz and organized a group of volunteer fire brigades with water barrels, pumps, and horses.
In 1910, they formed a choir headed by Moni Tagaus. According to the words of Kaminzki, the band won the privilege to attend and sing at the funeral of Kazimir, the progressive nobleman who contributed much to the advancement of the cultural life in the town.
The choir's repertoire comprised songs in Yiddish and Russian, which were common languages in those days in the Jewish community. The impressive band was established about two years after the choir and most of its members came out of it, whom its principal was the same Moni Tagaus, a man of vigor and organizational ability.
A push and encouragement for the band to get organized was brought by a Hebrew teacher from Ukraine who abandoned teaching, and together with his family, founded a band that played in Yiddish. They traveled all over Ukraine and Bessarabia and came as far as Yedinitz. This band left a strong impression on the youth and led to the organization of the local band. Among the founders were Bracha Weiner, Avraham Salzman, Kaminzki,Yitzhak Brotzky, Levi Ellisman, Avraham Lerner (known as Tiomba), his brother and others.
The band establishment and existence, even in a small town, was in those days involved in great difficulties: in making costumes, the stage, finding space for rehearsals, and above all, looking for a hall for the performances. Most of the problems were solved on their own, and the problem of the performance hall was solved with the aid of the noble Kazimir family, who made available to them one of the halls at the cultural center that they established for the town's population. In that building, there was also the municipal library and a reading room. (Later, in the 1920s, during the Romanian regime, the gymnasium was located there, and when the gymnasium closed, it served as the old people's house).
In the hall where the band performed in Yiddish and Russian, another band performed, which was organized among the teachers at the various schools around the city. The band's first appearance was in the play Hasia the Orphan. This play was of great success in those days in the towns of Bessarabia because the Jews liked orphans and displayed a warm attitude sharing in their grief.
After the success with Hasia the Orphan, they introduced Tuvia the Milkman and other plays. At the beginning of their performance, the audience was mostly from the poor parts of the community. Over time, members of the affluent parts of the community also began to attend the plays.
The revenues from the plays were donated to charity. Among other things, they kept the mitzvah Hachnasat Kala (donation for wedding) and funded the wedding of Yoyze and Fruma (both mentally handicapped). The wedding took place in the cemetery, so that it would stop, so they believed, a plague that broke out in Yedinitz at the same time. Those days the people were not familiar with the theory of genetics, and to the disappointment of the people of the town, the happy couple did not bring a next generation, but fortunately, there was not a lack of lunatics in Yedinitz, even without the next generation of this couple.
Bands from outside of the town
None of the band's players attended acting school (it is doubtful if there was such a school even in the big cities). Instead of the professional knowledge, the actors used their passion, desire, and unlimited dedication. The band members got some knowledge from the professional bands that visited Yedinitz quite often.
The local band members assisted the professional visiting actors in taking care of their needs and solving technical and organizational problems that arose because of the poor conditions in the town. Thanks to this, and as compensation for their sympathy and help, the local actors could watch the rehearsals, and sometimes when one of the minor players of the external bands was sick, one of the local actors was invited to take his place.
Among the bands that frequented the town are often remembered: Shein Band, Ziegler, Falker Wolfenson, Fishzon, and Sidi Tal.
Indeed, bands with a higher artistic level also came to us. Among these, is the famous Vilna band, before the split, including actors like Bulloff, Stein, Kamin, Domb, and other great players. A strong impression was especially left by the show Kiddush Hashem, according to Shalom Ash's book, which excelled not only at a high level of play but also by the decorated set which was not seen at that time at Yedinitz. (See on page 312, an article from the Yiddish newspaper Undzer Zeit about this play.)
Yedinitz was also visited by great Yiddish stage artists like Dr. Paul Baratov, who compellingly played the figure of the father of Strindberg. There were cases when one of the bands got stuck for months, especially during the muddy autumn months without the ability to move from place to place and became from wandering stars to fixed stars.
The members of the local band would share in their grief and do all they can to get them out of the mud, in its double meaning, the real and the financial one.
For the local actors, the visits of the external bands were both cultural events and a learning opportunity.
Characters among the actors
The fact that some girls and boys rejected a routine and piled a way in a particular cultural field, testifies to them that each of them had a noteworthy personality.
But unfortunately, the information I have is about only two or three characters among them.
I have already mentioned the name of Bracha Weiner. She was a unique person, single at an advanced age, with a turbulent, dynamic character and infidel in conventions, and of course, these qualities were enough to make her strange in the eyes of the people. She was no doubt a type of artist with high potential who did not reach her full expression and ability in the restrictive conditions of the small town. In later years, as the actors of her age, the first founders of the dramatic band stopped playing, Bracha found an outlet directing plays. She also invested in this area all her soul. She was strict, and thorough with the actors, to ensure the level of the play. To ensure the success of the show, she also served as a prompter on the eve of the show. Sometimes she also composed plays that included national and lyric expressions.
Forgive me that because I was a teenager in those days, it remains in my memory precisely a specific humorous case from the activities of Bracha Weiner. An illustrative case showing the theatrical experience in those days.
It was in a premiere and the Garfinkel's Hall was full. The lights went out, and the show began. She sat in the prompter cell, read the text, and gave the tone for the players. A whispering voice came from Bracha's prompters' cell and was heard well in the front rows of the hall, so the patrons of the expensive tickets got to know the text even before it was heard from the mouths of the actors. From the spell booth that stood inside the hall before the stage, a small light flashed that highlighted the cracks between the planks which were not connected properly. A naughty boy made a prank. He took a pin, attached it to a toothpick, inserted it through one of the cracks, and stabbed Bracha in the back.
Instinctively, a common curse uttered out of Bracha's mouth: the spirit shall enter into your father. The embarrassed actor who did not remember from rehearsing such a sentence, approached theatrically to the edge of the stage in order to hear better, and at that moment the boy repeated his operation, and Bracha, with a fist clenched uttered the same curse louder. The actor in desperation shouted the curse into the hall, the thunder of laughter erupted and the heartbreaking tragedy was murdered that evening.
Among the first actors to continue directing is noteworthy to mention Levy Ellisman, who gladly agreed to requests from various drama circles. He also directed plays with the band of the Gordonia branch on various occasions, as well as with other bands organized for special purposes.
In the 1930s, the young man Eli Lerner, stood out for his dramatic ability. Eli was the son of Shekhali Lerner (The Crumb). A small Jew, wrinkling and limping, an old and tired man. His wife was big, fat, and very prominent. They both had a good temperament. Shikhali had a poetic mind and a nice voice, and he used to sing the prayers in the synagogue on Friday and Saturday nights.
With him staying in a hostel, which was halfway up a basement, the guest cantors who visited the town since he was a great expert cantor. He was the first in town to purchase a gramophone, and in the evenings, he took it out and play synagogal melodies records by Rosenblatt, Roitman, and other great cantors for the enjoyment of all the residents of the area.
Eli himself was a simple guy, who on the outside did not exhibit any special charm but inherited from his parents his good temperament and the poetic soul of his father. It was impossible to recognize the gray figure of everyday life when he was on stage.
Especially etched in my memory is his appearance in The Meshigene (I do not remember the author). It was almost a one-man show with sharp transitions and changing situations which required great ability to play. In other plays in which he participated; he was the main figure.
It is worth mentioning the family Schwartz, whose daughters took part in almost all the drama circles.
In the photo: 1. Lali Rosenberg (perished); 2. Yasha Shitz-Magen (died, Haifa);3. Bracha Groisman-Horwitz (Petach Tikva, Israel) 4. Heinrich Ackerman (Israel); 5. Sarah Schitz-Maaler (Tel Aviv); 6. Laser Beniches; 7. Yosel Schwartz (died, Chernovitz); 8. Samuel Siag (Brazil); 9. Itzik Kagan; 10. Heiml Dondushansky (South America); 11. Ite Weinschenker-Mishuri (Tel Aviv); 12. Eli Lerner (perished); 13. The director of the studio Louis Alisman (perished); 14. Yaakov Feldman (perished) ;15. Levi Tendrich (Lvov); 16. Herschel Lerner (brother of Eli); 17. Daniel Schuster; 18. Deborah Schwartz-Baran (Israel); 19. Mordechai Volach (Tel Aviv); 20. Moni Garber (died in Venezuela); 21. Leatse Schwarz-Haluchi (Israel); 22. David Feldman (Chernovitz); 23. Lyuse Chuck (perished)
Everybody in town knew the home of Dudi Dezerats, whose house stood on a hill, at the end of the town at the end of Gypsy Street, which was open to every guest and every passer-by. It was a family blessed with children, hardworking, and happy.
Despite being distant and being an isolated house, the members of the house were able to make connections with various circles within the city. There were always visitors in their house, some of which were attracted to the boys or the girls, and some drew to the special atmosphere of this home. Four of the girls took part in different periods in the drama bands: Pesia, Hannah, Leah, and Deborah. Some of these girls excelled with their nice voices, and thanks to them they reached the stage boards, some
excelled in the play, and even in both.
It is worth noting that the house was a Zionist house, were Yitzchak, the eldest son, made Aliyah at a young age. The four girls also made Aliyah and had families in Israel.
Anyone who wants to assess the level of the play of the bands objectively in the various periods will surely conclude that it was a delightful and provincial play, but in the daily life of the town, there were the ones that flashed light onto the dark nights. We had wonderful memories of all those who took part in trying to make a difference in the long, dull life of the town.
Kibbutz Nir Am
A Group of Theater Lovers from 1920
From right to left: Standing: Wildstein, Shlomele (Avraham Shlomele's) Rosenthal (died in Israel), Pessya Schwartz (Israel), Avraham Revkolevsky (died, Paris)
Seated: Itsik Brodsky (died, America), Bronya Rabinovitch, sister of Vitya (zl), Rodia Mittelman (America), Itsik Goichberg (son of Odesser), died America
Lying: ---, Avraham Rimer, ----
by Mendel Shitz
Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ
I want to write about the last amateur (Lyubitelski or Liebhaber, [lover] as it also used to be called) theater production in Yedinitz; namely, in the last two years of the Romanian regime and in the first year of the Soviet rule. I myself participated in this very production.
At the same time, I want to mention that there were many periods of amateur theater productions in Yedinitz. My mother, may she rest in peace, who was born in Yedinitz (Sosya Guberman was her maiden name), would describe the amateur productions in the city before her 1908 wedding ); they used to perform Goldfaden's pieces and operettas.
Theater productions were directed, in the early years of the Romanian occupation, by the youth of that time, for example, Avraham Saltzman. I remember that my brother Yosef (today: Magen), my sister Sarah (today: Meller), both in Tel Aviv, the Steinman brothers (today in South America), Yisroel Kolker (today in Lvov, Soviet Union), and their friends (male and female), presented pieces in the late 20s. In the mid-30s, there were other theater initiatives.
Meanwhile, my father Moshe (Moshke) Shitz, may he rest in peace, used to tell me that he used to participate in amateur performances in his hometown of Soroka.
He used to play, as he said, lovers' roles.
About these above-mentioned theatrical shows in Yedinitz, let others write, those who participated in them, or at least, those who were connected to them.
When I started to become active in these ventures, my brothers Yosef and Yasha (zl) and sister Sarah were already in Israel.
In the year 1938, the Drama Studio, as it was called, was established again.
As I remember, they performed Goldfaden's The Sorceress (they called the piece Bobe Yachne), Soroh Sheindel from Yehupitz by Sholom Aleichem, and Revistas that were one-act.
The government of Cuza Goga, as it is known, did not permit any Jewish cultural activities. After the fall of Khuza Goga's regime, the theater activity was renewed.
Since a certain emptiness was felt, people came together again and established a new Studio. The initiator of this was Levi Alisman (who died in Transnistria). His wife Mintze was a seamstress, but she also showed interest in the theater. Levi himself was a good actor in the past, and he proudly used to talk about his life role as Yekel Shabshowitz in the play God of Revenge by Sholom Asch.
Levi Alisman was also the stage manager of the Studio. The rehearsals took place in his home. We were not interested in presenting political pieces, just regular plays.
In the Studio, other than me, these were the participants: Avrohom Gold (came to Israel in 1970), Yechiel Viener (perished), Shmuel Gruzman (today in Czernowitz), Yosel Altman (Chana the redhead broker's son; in Russia today), Froike Kagan (no longer alive), Yechiel Gralnik (visited Israel as a tourist in 1965; today in Yedinitz), Dudye Kaufman (no longer alive; his father, Arale Malke's, was a furrier; Eli Lerner (Yosel Yehoshua Rusnak's son; the entire family perished in the camps). Dudye Kaufman used to write texts, one-acts, and paint the scenes himself.
Of the girls, who participated in the Studio, I remember two talented actresses: Faigele Akerman (today in Yedinitz), and Sonia Portnoy (daughter of Avrohom Moller, the painter). Other than that, I also remember Etya Friedman (her father was a carpenter; today in Yedinitz); her sister Rochele (today in Netanya, Israel); and Sarah Kaufman (today in Russia, daughters of Leizer Koppel's Kaufman), Chaike Veinberg, and others. To all those, whose names have left my mind, please forgive me. More than tens of years have since passed.
Before the performances would begin, we had to obtain a permit from Hotin, from the Legionne de Gendarmie [Police Department], but before that, we even had to have a recommendation from the chief of police, head of the Gendarmerie. We got this from him for a few hundred lei ; understandably, this was through a broker, Shloime Tzirulnik, son of Sholom Parikmacher.
What did we perform? I remember the names of the following pieces: Tevye the Dairyman from Sholom Aleichem; The Village Youth by Leon Kobrin.
Each play was performed twice at the most. Rehearsals went on from four to six weeks. The actors had to learn their lines by heart. There was also a prompter: Avrohom Rotshtein (perished in Transnistria). We would also go as guest performers into the neighboring towns such as Bricewi, Riszkan, and others.
The performances had full audiences. Usually, we would sell tickets first, since the Studio had to support itself. The expenses were the following: renting the Garfinkel's Hall ), paying the musicians (later we had volunteer fiddlers), payments for the necessities and decorations, payment for the stage manager, and for the stage makeup; this was done by Sholem Parikmacher. A ticket cost anywhere from fifteen to twenty lei. The fisk [cashier] took his commission. But there was always a deficit. In those cases, the stage manager was left with less.
We often suffered greatly from trouble-making youth and drunks, who would break into the hall without tickets and would create terrible chaos.
The performances would begin late; the majority began at about 9:30 in the evening. It was impossible to end the performance until 11:30 when the electricity went out. So, when the lighting signals were given, that means that it would be dark soon, then we would light lamps or candles in order to be able to end the performance. Often, we ran to Shpier in the electricity station, to plead for an extension in the electricity and lighting. For extending the lighting for half an hour, the cost was 100 lei, if the technician agreed to stay.
During the later times of the Romanian rule, Yedinitz found itself in a military zone, and it was the local military garrison that now had to issue the permit.
So, we received a permit there to perform in order to raise funds for army equipment. The total amount that we used to give to the captain of the garrison was relatively small, about 500 lei. Understandably, the money went directly into the captain's pocket. The captain and other officers used to come watch the performances.
Under the Soviets
In 1940, the Romanians left, and the Soviets arrived. At that time, we were establishing an amateur theater troupe. Some Communists (almost all of us were members of the Zionist youth organizations) came to join us including Chaim'el Shuster (brother of Moshe Shuster) who today lives in Paris and others.
We began to perform right away. Since Yedinitz belonged to the Moldavian republic, a representative from the capital city of Tiraspol came to us to set up a Komsomol [Young Communist League], to which the troupe had been added. This delegate, who remained in town for a long time, also got involved in the repertoire. From him, we received literature from the Moscow publication Emes [Truth]. Some of the pieces we received were by Sholom Asch, but as I remember, some were also about the resistance in Austria, title, Florian Matthias.
Later, they threw us, the former Zionists: I, Avrohom Gold, Rochel Kaufman, and others out of the Studio. Levi Alisman remained the stage manager. He, along with them, performed Goldfaden's Shulamith (the main role was played by Faige Akerman), and some new pieces.
We, those who were tossed out, turned to Avrohom Saltzman (he perished) that he should organize us as a troupe, and he should be our stage manager. We joined, I think, the trade unions, and they adopted us and declared us as their troupe. They now had something to write about in their cultural activities publications
We performed Mentchen [People] and Mazal Tov by Sholom Aleichem, The Dybbuk by Anski, and other pieces. We had more success here than with the troupe we had left from the Komsomol.
The troupe was a sort of cooperative or artel. If there was any profit from the performances, this was given over to the performers.
During the Soviet rule, there were no socio-cultural activities in town, not in Yiddish, not in Russian, and not in Moldavian. But once, a Russian choir came down
The Tarbut [Zionist educational institutions] library went through censorship and many books were thrown out. The librarian, the elderly Kleinman zl, remained. The library was in the house of Chaim Weinszenker.
We did not hear any radio. The government took away all the apparatuses and put in its own speakers who delivered the news and programs from Moscow. All the officials including the mayor (Golova Gorsovieta), came down.
The Soviet government also began to arrest enemies of the people (vragi naroda) and then exiled them. Among the exiled capitalists were the --- [letter missing in Yiddish] merchant Itzik Mayanski, the shoe merchant Nissel Kalker, for talking too much, the katzap [slurred Russian nickname] Milian (from Moslavina), and others.
The electricity technician, the non-Jewish young boy Alyosha, became a
Communist right away and a bustler for the government (as was known, as soon as he came back from the Romanians and the Germans, he became the first bloody pogrom activist against the Jews and his Communist friends.
All in all, we performed three or four times under the Soviets. Our last performance was on the tragic night of the 21st, into the 22nd of June. The show ended around 1:00 AM. After the show, I remember it like today: Rochel'e Kaufman went out onto the stage to thank the crowd. Usually, she had to say, The evening is over. But she made a mistake then, and said, The evening will be shot.
Within a few hours, the Germans and the Romanians began shooting They attacked Russia. A German airplane crossed the sky of Yedinitz in the early morning. It gave off the first shots.
On July 14, the Romanians and Germans entered the town
In 1944, I came back to the town of the camps on Transnistria. Of the thousands who were deported, only a few of us returned Our parents were left in the common graves of Transnistria Understandably, no one even thought of performing in a theater
Whoever was able, continued to wander The usual road was through Czernowitz to Romania, and from there to the Land of Israel.
By Avraham Gold
Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ
On Shabbat, June 21, 1941, the Yedinitz troublemaker drama club gave its last performance. Why do I call it the troublemaker drama club? Because in town, there was another troublemaking group. And so, if that was allowed, why could there not be a troublemaking drama club? So, I would like to add a piece of history to the club.
In the year 1938, a group of us, young theater lovers, set up a Studio under the directorship and management of the talented amateur stage manager Levi Alisman, may he rest in peace (perished in Transnistria). Youth from all areas and political views of the Jewish population in the town joined the club: from the Zionist left (that means the Communist voice), and from those who did not belong to any particular party; the workers and children of upper-class parents; whoever had any talent and whoever was interested in this field.
The drama club was also active after the Soviets entered Bessarabia, but unfortunately, the existence of this non-partisan circle did not go on for long. The Jewish leaders of the local Komsomol ran a cleansing of the Studio and they organized a pure-proletariat drama club. Then we, the organizers of the club, the non-partisan Zionists, and so-called high-class children, remained outside of this. But we had a great yearning for the theater, and we looked for ways to approach the authorities so that we could receive a permit to perform in the theater.
Yechiel Gralnik (Gershon Gralnik's son, lives in Yedinitz), who directed a sports unit, got us a permit to perform in the name of the sports unit. That's how the Troublemakers' Club was created, in which the author of these lines (who first arrived in Israel in the year 1970) participated, Mendel Shitz (lives in Haifa), Yechiel Gralnik, Borea Chayos, Avrohom Felsher's son (lives in Kishinev), Chaike Vineberg (daughter of Moshe the Feivelech's; lives in Yedinitz), the sisters Sarah and Rochel'e Kaufman (Leizer Koppel's daughter; Sarah lives in Czernowitz, Rochel'e in Netanya, Israel),
Avraham Roitman zl (Mendel Roitmans' son; perished in Transnistria), the brothers Shmuel and Itzik Gruzman (son of Henoch the Kaiser's; they live in Czernowitz), and everyone's beloved Dudyele Kaufman (Aharale Malach's son; perished in the slaughter at the Prut River).
Avraham Saltzman zl, was the director and stage manager of the drama club (he was a lover of the 1920s; formerly a star actor; perished in Transnistria). He also translated for the censor the things that we performed. The censor was the secretary of the Komsomol, a Moldavian from Tiraspol. His family name was Baznyuk. He used to attend the open rehearsals and would always applaud enthusiastically. That is how we celebrated our victory over our opponents.
On the terrible Shabbat of June 21, we performed two one-act plays of Sholom Aleichem: Mentchen and Mazel Tov, and a one-act play by the Russian writer, Florian Mattias. Garfinkel's Hall was overfilled, and the evening passed with great success. As usual, the performance ran until very late but the crowd did not disassemble. They waited for more. We, therefore, had to inform the crowd of the closing for the evening. Rochel'e Kaufman voluntarily went up to do this task, and we, behind the curtains, were joking around and cautioned Rochel'e that she should not make a mistake and make an announcement, as in the joke, that the evening would be shot instead of the evening being ended.
Rochel'e went out, and with a pretty, young girl's voice, intentionally announced loudly: The evening will be shot.
We laughed and were happy. But even before we had time to remove the smile from our faces, even before the crowd began to disburse, in the distance, the thunderous sounds of shooting coming from cannons were heard
The German-Romanian attack on Soviet Russia had then begun.
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