_The Mendele Review_: Yiddish Literature and Language
                       (A Companion to _MENDELE_)
                    _Yiddish Theater Forum_ [_YTF_]
Contents of Vol. 06.008 _TMR_ and Vol. 01.001 _YTF_
31 August 2002

1) Introducing the _Yiddish Theater Forum_ (Leonard Prager)
2) Realizing the Vision of Oxford, Summer 1999 (Joel Berkowitz)
3) _King Lear_ on Orchard Street:  Louis Kramer's _di amerikaner kinder_
   (Leonard Prager)
4) Coming Issues of the _YTF_ (Joel Berkowitz)

Date: 31 August 2002
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Joint Issue of _Yiddish Theater Forum_ and _The Mendele Review_

At the International Academic Workshop On Yiddish Drama, Theater, and
Performing Arts held in Oxford in the Summer of 1999 (29 June - 2 July)
[see], participants felt
that an electronic bulletin and eventually a hardcopy journal devoted to
Yiddish theater research would stimulate this neglected area of Yiddish
studies.  I suggested that the _Yiddish Theater Forum_ be a part of the
cybernetic Mendele family, making use of _Mendele_, the foremost medium
for "notes and queries" (or "shayles tshuves") in the Yiddish world.  I
also suggested that joint issues of the _Forum_ be produced with _The
Mendele Review_ until such time as the new organ is firmly established
and widely known.  The title _Yiddish Theater Forum_ was decided on at
Oxford, but not much more was concluded.  The present joint issue is a
first step towards awakening the creative energies manifest at the

Date: 31 August 2002
From: Joel Berkowitz 
Subject: Realizing the Vision of Oxford, Summer 1999

               Realizing the Vision of Oxford, Summer 1999
                            Joel Berkowitz

First of all, I am grateful to Leonard Prager for his energetic
leadership, which has made it possible to launch and disseminate _The
Yiddish Theatre Forum_.  This venture has also been inspired by the
talented scholars and performers who came together during a few hot
summer days in Oxford to share their work on Yiddish theatre and drama,
and their ideas for furthering our understanding of the subject.

It is not so long ago that such a venture would have seemed
inconceivable to me.  When I first began studying the Yiddish theatre in
the early 1990s, I could count the people with whom I shared my interest
on the fingers of one hand -- or more precisely, on my index finger.  At
the time, Nina Warnke was the only person I knew who shared my
enthusiasm for the subject.  We used to meet periodically to discuss
Yiddish plays, using these sessions as a chance to familiarize ourselves
with the repertoire -- particularly the popular dramas that delighted
audiences and appalled critics to approximately equal degrees.

Nina and I each arrived at our meetings full of questions.  What was the
significance of the topical references in that Lateiner melodrama?  Just
how scandalous or how conventional was that problem play by Gordin?  How
similar were these plays to what was then being staged uptown on
Broadway, or in Yiddish theatres in Europe, South America, or
Johannesburg?  Finding answers often felt like a case of the blind
leading the blind.  There was so little scholarship to turn to, so few
mentors, and but a handful of surviving veterans of the Yiddish stage.
We thought it not unlikely that we were the only people in the world who
would actually read a Hurwitz or Lateiner play (not that those writers'
many fans had _read_ the plays either -- humbling thought whenever I
tried to imagine what _Dos yidishe harts_ or _Dos pintele yid_ had
actually looked sounded smelled like).

Not unlikely -- yet we turned out to be blissfully mistaken.  Since
then, I have crossed paths with dozens of fellow students of the Yiddish
theatre, ranging within the academy from seasoned scholars to young
professors to graduate students, and outside it, from directors, actors,
and musicians to librarians and museum curators.  They include those
whose work revolves primarily around the Yiddish theatre, others with
expertise in related fields, and still others drawn to the subject for
any number of reasons.

These people should be talking to each other.  Of course, many of them
already are, after having met at a conference, read each other's work,
or been referred by librarians or colleagues.  Such exchanges are
importantbut something more is needed:  a centralized, regular forum in
which we can learn from each other and help shape the future direction
of Yiddish theatre studies.  The Oxford workshop was just one of many
signs that our field, however small in absolute terms, is vital -- in
more than one sense of the word -- and growing.  We hope that you will
join us to help make the _YTF_ an ongoing, international,
multi-disciplinary discussion that will help all of us gain a greater
understanding of Yiddish theatre, drama, and performance, and solidify a
network of enthusiasts who can turn to each other as living resources.

Date: 31 August 2002
From: Leonard Prager 

Subject:  _King Lear_ on Orchard Street:  Louis Kramer's _di amerikaner
kinder_ (1)

Some time ago I randomly selected and downloaded one of the
seventy-seven digitalized manuscript and typescript plays in the Library
of Congress's magnificent Marwick Collection.(2) I chose a play whose
title clearly placed it in a huge class of Yiddish plays built around
the family complex.  (Even a superficial search among Yiddish play
titles brings up multiple instances of "children," "sons," "daughters,"
"husbands," "wives,' "fathers," "uncles," "aunts.")  I did not
anticipate any great surprizes.

A downloaded manuscript is not the manuscript per se and there are
sometimes points to be learned only from the original paper source --
yet what a boon to be able to summon a true likeness of the manuscript
by a mere click.  After printing the twenty-eight page manuscript of
the one-act play I had selected, I proceeded to examine it.  Who was the
author?  Was the ms. in his own hand?  Was the title a single or double
one?  What genre did the author assign to the play?  Who were the
dramatis personae and what could one learn from their names?  How apt
was the characterization?  Did the characters have individual voices?
When was the play written and in what period did its action transpire?
How skilfully was the plot structured and what were the author's stage
directions?  How rich was the Yiddish, how colloquial, how Americanized?
What were the principal themes?  Was the play ever performed?  Was it
ever translated or ever published?

The first matter to claim my attention was the title, not its short form
but the full moniker:  _Di amerikaner kinder_ fun Luis Kremer [Louis
Kramer].  Lebensbild [Lebnsbild].  The very first page [=image] of this
ms. play, Image 1 of 28, has a hand-written Yiddish title "amerikaner
kinder".  Image 2 gives us, both in Yiddish and English, "American
Children Comedy in One Act."  But Image 4 alters the title slightly by
adding the definite article; moreover, the descriptor is "life picture"
rather than "comedy."  The term _lebnsbild_ is a very common one in the
Yiddish theater and I assume that its original force derives from the
popular belief that dramas of "real life" are somehow more serious or
more valid than merely invented ones.  But it suddenly occurs to me that
I do not really know the origin of this term.  The NHG _Lebensbild_ is
defined by Cassell's _New German Dictionary_ (12th edition, 1969) as
'sketch of a person's life; short biography' and Langenscheidt's
_Handwoerterbich Englisch_ does not include the word at all.  Did the
sense 'a realistic drama' exist somewhere in German or another language
or was the term perhaps created in Yiddish?  Why is the word missing in
the main Yiddish dictionaries (MEYYED, Stutshkov and Harkavi)?
One desideratum of Yiddish theater studies is a lexicon of Yiddish
theater argot (e.g. _dos kintsele_, _bombe-role_, _bulbe_, etc. ).

It transpires that the play before us can be played as pure melodrama,
but it works better as comedy.  The central anxiety explored in "Di
amerikaner kinder" is that of aged parents.  The title itself suggests
the implicit question, "Will _American_ children care for their parents
in their old age as children were wont to do -- or at least expected to
do -- in the Old Country?"  The author may not have been sure himself
which track he was following -- melodrama or comedy.  At one moment the
"good" son is bright and at another is something of a simpleton, a
contrast doubtless originating in the profound union of simplicity and
moral depth in Shakespeare's Cordelia.

The plot unfolds in New York during World War One, after Germany invaded
Russia.  It is a time of pogroms and unrest in Eastern Europe and Father
has fled from his home in Bialistok.  His arrival in America is
imminent.  He has sent money to his children over the years, enabling
his son Izidor to become a doctor and his daughter Line's husband to
become a lawyer -- medicine and law were the immigrant generation's most
respected callings.  His third child, Khom, sells bananas from a
pushcart at the corner of Ludlow and Orchard Streets in the Lower East
Side of New York.  Looked down upon by his parvenu siblings, Khom is a
family disgrace; they call him _pedleruk_.(3)

The three children meet at the daugher's home to wait for their father.
They insult Khom (who has dignity and is not ashamed of his occupation),
and argue as to which of the three the father will live with.  Each
wants him.  When the father arrives and tells the children he is
penniless, things suddenly change.  This one-acter has been directly
influenced by Shakespeare's _King Lear_, probably via Yankev Gordin's
_Der yidisher kenig lir_, but there is no dashing between castles on a
stormy night.  The entire action takes place in "eyn parler sheyn
oyfgefikst" ('a nicely furnished apartment').(4) Kramer's play can well
be called a comedy.  The father has only been testing his children.  In
a swift reversal he reveals he has not lost his fortune, which he awards
to the faithful son Khom.

In Kremer's _Di amerikaner kinder_, children who have received a
father's bounty when he was able to give are placed in a position to
return the father's kindness.  Izidor (who used to be Yisrolik) and Line
(who used to be Leyele) mimic the infamous Goneril and Regan in refusing
their father asylum.  The poor son Khom sells _pinenes_ from a pushcart.
Many Yiddish-speakers of the day surely pronounced the word _bananas_ in
this way; Khom's use of it here seems aimed at undercutting the
pretentious siblings.  Khom is not mentioned as having received monetary
help from the father; he is self-reliant, dignified and is
temperamentally as well as socially at odds with his sister's world.  He
regards his lawyer brother-in-law as fraudulent.  He voices a vigorous
American patriotism -- America offers opportunity to all.

We have delved into the play and of course the play is the thing, but
what about the playwright?  How many of us have ever heard of Louis
Kramer? [Yiddish:  Luis Kremer]  In the course of reading the manuscript
one gets the impression the author is a plebeian, a self-taught
proletarian who invariably misspells words of Hebrew-Aramaic origin --
one who writes "Noyekh mit zibn grayzn."  But he not only seems to have
had a limited kheyder education -- in reality Kramer studied in a
yeshiva and had wealthy parents -- he also gives signs of suffering from
dyslexia, for he often transposes the letters of words.  He writes
_sroykhes_ for _skhoyres_, _khoyver makhn_ for _khorev makhn_.  In
addition to his disturbed spellings, many more are naive and point to
his pronunciation.  He writes _ot_ for _hot_, sometimes with a _hey_
between _komets alef_ and _tes_. and generally drops initial aspirates.
He has obviously been in America long enough to learn words like _klin_
'clean' _feyker_ 'faker', _blufer_ 'bluffer', _oyfgefikst_ 'fixed up'
-- an American neologism.  But he can distinguish _vinde_ from _fenster_
when he so wishes.  There is no substitute for looking at the actual
handwriting.  Again I remind readers that a ms. of this play -- which
was never published, as far as I can tell -- may be viewed online at the
Library of Congress Yiddish play collections.(5)

But who was the author?  There are not many places students of Yiddish
theater can look for biographic information.(6) Fortunately there is
Zalmen Zilbertsvayg's six-volume _Leksikon fun yidishn teater_, an
unindexed wild growth of a work but indispensable.  [An important chore
for Yiddish theater researchers:  A Subject and Name Index to the
_Leksikon fun yidishn teater_).  According to Zilbertsvayg, Luis Kremer
[Louis Kramer] (1876-1964) was born in Grodno, Belarus and therefore was
a native speaker of Litvish [the "Lithuanian " dialect].  However, he
arrived in New York with his family in 1888 at age twelve, and was thus
subject to the influence of a variety of Yiddish dialects (in addition
to English dialects).  He was active in the Jewish labor movement until
1902 and then became a professional Yiddish actor and theater director.
Numerous of his plays were staged but not a single one is listed by
Lahad as having been published.(7) One of his plays was entitled _Di
gedemedzhed familye_ ['The Damaged Family'], which could well have been
the title of _Di amerikaner kinder_ or of several of his other
apparently melodramatic plays.  His Yiddish is sprinkled with
Americanisms and there is evidence that he was in close touch with the
English language stage.  His comedy _Shnayders shpiln teater_ is said to
have been very popular, evidence that he could write humorously as well
as pathetically for the stage.

A ms. play can tell us much but we need outside information and
contextual elaboration before even a simple primitive melodrama yields
all its secrets.  I can only speculate about the author's (or
amenuensis's) dyslexia and wonder how one who studied at a Yeshiva can
write _taynes_ tes hey nun tof!  Kremer was born into a rich family yet
was a garment worker in New York and a leader and popular speaker in the
Jewish labor movement.  He moved from labor politics to the Yiddish
theater, from commedia dell' arte vaudeville appearances in beer halls
(improvised dialogue in set scenarios) to legitimate theater, and
back back again to vaudeville.  A popular performing star he was also a
profuse composer of stage plays.  He moved from the Yiddish to the
English-language stage and back to the Yiddish stage.  The most striking
movement in his life was from fame to obscurity.(8)

Why should we prevent once-famous but presently forgotten figures from
being totally forgotten, especially when they were practitioners of a
plebeian vaudeville art that is intrinsically ephemeral?  I picked the
Kremer play by chance but it may prove a litmus paper for the airing of
larger questions that must engage students of the Yiddish theater and
of the recent Jewish past generally.

1. _Di amerikaner kinder_ fun Luis Kremer [Louis Kramer].  Lebensbild
[=Lebnsbild].  Haltung:  Nyu york.  Tsayt:  Gegenvart (< NHG
_Gegenwart_).  Perzonen:  R' Avrom Halperin; D"r Izidor, Line [Lina],
Khom = zayne kinder.  Eyn parler sheyn oyfgefikst.

2 American children :  comedy in one act / [Amerikaner kinder :  komedye
in eyn akt] This is one of the seventy digitalized plays, part of the
Marwick Collection.  "The Lawrence Marwick Collection of Copyrighted
Yiddish Plays in the Library of Congress consists of more than one
thousand original Yiddish plays--in manuscript or typescript--written
between the end of the nineteenth and the middle of the twentieth
century and submitted for copyright registration to the Library of
Congress."  [from the on-line description] The digitalized plays "may
be examined in the American Variety Stage:  Vaudeville and Popular
Entertainment, 1870-1920 collection of American Memory in the section
Yiddish Playscripts."  [from the online description].

3. The low status of pedler is lowered further by the pejorative suffix

4. The Gordin play was more popular and better known among
Yiddish-language audiences than Shakespeare's.  In contradistinction to
its frequent melodramatic exploitation, Shakespare's _King Lear_ in
Yiddish has achieved the greatest artistic realization of any
Shakespeare play -- with the great Shloyme Mikhoels in the title role
and Zuskin as the Fool (in the Moscaw Art Theatre's famous 1935

5. On a preliminary page of the ms. appears the stamped date "April 20
1920" which is apparently the date the ms. was received by the Library
of Congress.  Internal evidence dates the play around 1918 and we can
therefore fix its composition between 1918-1920.  Next to the date is a
stamped number "OLD 54342" which apparently was the classification
number first given to the acquisition; it also appears on the first page
of the ms.  On the next-to-the-last page of the ms. appears the
following stamped address:  "Julius Blumberg / Stationer / Power Printer
/ ???  [illegible number] Grand St., NY."  If the ms. is not in Kremer's
handwriting, perhaps the amanuensis was someone associated with
Blumberg.  The latter seems to have had some function in transferring
the ms. to the Library of congress, in compliance with the copyright
law.  Technical questions such as these can be resolved by studying the
LC play collection.

6. The entry in the _Leksikon fun der nayer literatur_ (vol. 8, cols.
271-2), appears to be based wholly on Zilbertsvayg, vol. 6, which it

7. The Zilbertsvayg entry (_Leksikon fun yidishn teater_, vol. 6, col.
4957) mentions publication of Kremer's "sharzh" ['caricature' < Fr.
_charge_] _Khatskl der meylekh fun mitsrayim a moderne yidishe operete
in dray aktn_ in the Argentinian _Penimer un penimlekh_ 48 (1925).

8. "Yidishe shrayber in amerike," _Ikuf-almanakh 1961_.  New York:  Ikuf
farlag, 1961, pp. 551-562, does not include Luis Kremer, who was alive
and in New York when the list was made.  As early as 1939, the veteran
_Morgn-zhurnal_ theater critic Yankev Kirshenboym wrote an article in
his paper entitled "Luis kremer velkher hot gekenigt in vodevil, iz itst

'a fargesener'" ('Louis Kramer, who was a king of vaudeville, has been
forgotten') [cited in Zilbertsvayg, vol.6. col. 4958].

Date: 31 August 2002
From: Joel Berkowitz 
Subject: Coming Issues of the _YTF_

             Coming Issues of the _Yiddish Theater Forum_
                                Joel Berkowitz

It is up to the readers of the _YTF_ to help determine its content.
Certainly it can be a medium for sharing questions and answers in much
the way that Mendele and comparable user groups work.  I also invite
contributors to submit noteworthy texts and commentaries, or
reflections on a text or a theatrical phenomenon, as Leonard Prager has
done in the current issue.  His article illustrates that the close
examination of even a piece of light entertainment raises numerous
methodological questions that historians of the Yiddish theatre grapple
with on a regular basis.  I encourage you to submit responses to, or
ruminations upon, the questions he raises.

More broadly, I would like to devote the second issue to our collective
brainstorming:  how can we best make use of the _Yiddish Theatre Forum_?
I plan to share some preliminary thoughts on the matter; please feel
free to join me.  In the meantime, I wish you all a healthy and
prosperous New Year.
End of _The Mendele Review_ 06.008  /  _Yiddish Theater Forum_ 01.001
        Leonard Prager, editor             Joel Berkowitz, editor

_Yiddish Theater Forum_

                                Honorary Board

Raphael Goldwasser, Shifra Lerer, Bernard Mendelovich, Joseph Schein

                               Advisory Council

Dror Abend-David, Jean Baumgarten, Helen Beer, Paola Bertolone, Mendy
Cahan, Jeremy Dauber, Jerold Frakes, Ben Furnish, Itsik Gottesman,
Avraham Greenbaum, Nina Hein, Barbara Henry, Dov-Ber Kerler, John Klier,

David Mazower, Laura Mincer, Edna Nahshon, Yitskhok Niborski, Leonard
Prager, Alyssa Quint, Ron Robboy, Nahma Sandrow, Vassili Schedrin,
Joseph Schein, Jutta Strauss, Jeffrey Veidlinger, Nina Warnke, Seth
Wolitz, Moshe Yassur

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