YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  AMERICAN CHASSIDIM                                                 

1, by Chone Gottesfeld

(Yiddish: Amerikaner khasidim)


photo: Playwright Chone Gottesfeld.


Introductory note -- “Beneath the rollicking, side- splitting humor of the present play there is a far from attractive picture of the American brand of traditional Judaism, and especially of Chassidism in the New World--as grotesque an anachronism as a caravan of camels in a city of subways and motor cars. The orthodoxy of the Old World Jew, for all its Fundamentalism, had at least the saving graces of sincerity and dignity; it was not an empty ceremonial, but the way and the life; while its leaders were chosen on the score of learning and piety rather than chutzpah, lung power, and rating with R. G. Dun's. But over here it is apt to degenerate into a meaningless cult, into a means of self-advancement for pushing politicians and scheming shyster lawyers, and above all into a petty rivalry for synagogal honors among ignorant Jewish Babbitts and alrightniks, whose Americanized wives spend their time in gambling and mild flirtations, and whose American children, when they stop to think at all, wonder what it is all about." (note prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz).

Gottesfeld's 'American Chassidim" opened on 1 March 1928 at the Yiddish Art Theatre, Second Avenue and Twelfth Street. It is a comedy in three acts.

The cast members of this play included:

Jechiel Goldsmith, Anna Appel, Morris Silberkasten, Bertha Gerstin, Abraham Teitelbaum, Bina Abramowitz, Maurice Schwartz, Wolf Goldfaden, Rebecca Lash, Henrietta Schnitzer, Zvi Scooler, Lazar Freed, Jacob Goldstein, Sam Lehrer, Pincus Sherman, B. Mizbin, D. Stein, I. Berezin, Theodore Kaminker, Morris Strassberg, Mordecai Gibson, Samuel Cohn and Max Malinovsky.

Here is the synopsis of Gottesfeld's "American Chassidim". The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:



Isaac Green (Jechiel Goldsmith) and Bernard Wise (Wolf Goldfaden), who came to America without the proverbial shoestring and started out as street peddlers on the lower East Side, are now immensely rich realtors and props of the Jewish community in an ocean resort near New York. They are neighbors, and formerly were partners, but there has been a break between the two, and now they are mortal enemies and bitter rivals for communal honors, a rivalry they carry to ludicrous lengths. This hostility does not extend to their respective spouses, Sarah (Anna Appel) and Fannie (Rebecca Lash), who are the best of friends, being united by a common passion for playing cards and a common disgust with the action of their husbands in wasting good money on synagogues, Hebrew schools, cemeteries, etc. There is another bond of attachment between the two: Jean (Henrietta Schnitzer), Fannie's daughter, and Milton (Morris Silberkasten), Sarah's son, are in love. The two mothers approve of the match, while Sarah is equally pleased with the love affair between her daughter Sadie (Berta Gerstin) and a likeable young fellow named Sam (Zvi Scooler). All these youngsters are native Americans with the virtues and vices characteristic of their class and station in life.

But Isaac and Bernard have other plans respecting their daughters. Now that they are both prosperous and middle-aged, the old Chassidic faith of their youthful days in Europe has revived in them. Accordingly, Bernard makes arrangements with Charlie Flieh (Maurice Schwartz)--a shyster lawyer and clever rogue, who is all things to all men, and who is ever on the lookout for the main chance--to import a young Tzaddik--a Chassidic rabbi, supposed to be endowed with miraculous powers--as husband for Jean, and it is his intention to set the imported saint, whose name is Reb Dovidel (Lazar Freed), up in a palace--all for the greater glory of Bernard Wise and the confusion of Isaac Green. Not to be outdone, Isaac sends for the selfsame Charlie, who, ever ready to oblige for a consideration, undertakes to import a Tzaddik for Sadie who will cause Bernard's saint to pale into insignificance. Isaac is happy at the prospect and declares his intention to turn over most of his fortune to his prospective son-in-law, leaving for himself only enough to live on, while cutting off Milton, whose fondness for playing the races he condemns, without a cent. Left alone with Sarah, who is an old flame of his, Charlie promises, likewise for a consideration, to frustrate her husband's plans. After exchanging a few words with Milton and Sam on the seriousness of the situation, Charlie has a brilliant idea; namely, that Sam, whose beard grows fast, and who still remembers part of his Bar Mitzvah (Confirmation) speech, should disguise himself as a Chassidic rabbi and pose as the great Tzaddik imported by Isaac Green for his daughter, Sadie.


Reb Dovidel, Bernard's Tzaddik, arrives aboard the Berengaria and is at once set up in style by his prospective father-in-law, much to the disgust of Jean and Fannie. Presently, "Reb Hayimel," Isaac's Tzaddik, "arrives" aboard the Olympic, and for several days remains in seclusion, Charlie alone having access to him. After clever coaching and press-agenting on the part of the wily lawyer, Reb Hayimel makes his debut and creates a sensation by delivering his maiden address in perfect English. 


The fact that Reb Hayimel was able to master the English so quickly is taken as another proof of his "greatness." The papers are full of "stories" about him--all of them, of course, inspired by Charlie and adorned with the latter's pictures--while Reb Dovidel is left in the shade, and Bernard Wise knows he is licked. At Charlie's advice, Isaac now assigns fifty-thousand dollars to his prospective son-in-law, with promise of more by and by. Sadie, who cannot understand Sam's sudden disappearance and believes he has jilted her, is smitten with Reb Hayimel, to the great delight of her father. Unfortunately, there are complications: Jean is also smitten with the English-speaking rabbi and jilts Milton for him. Fresh hostilities now break out between Isaac and Bernard in which, for once, the wife and daughter of each take sides with the respective heads of their families. Things are suddenly brought to a head when Milton, blaming Charlie and Sam for the loss of both his patrimony and his sweetheart, exposes the lawyer's ruse. Thereupon Charlie, who is equal to every emergency, admits the ruse, for which he takes full responsibility, and declares that he resorted to it solely in order to save Isaac and Bernard from their own folly and to prevent them from marring the happiness of their children. As a result of his plea for peace and harmony, the Greens and Wises arc reconciled and the young lovers reunited.

The staff for this play included: Executive Staff: Maurice Schwartz, Director. Jacob Rovenger, General Manager. Anna Schwartz, Treasurer. Harry Greenblatt, Press Representative. Leon Bloomenfeld, English Publicity. Frank Rovenger, Rep. Benefit Department. Stage Staff: Joseph Schwartzberg and Ben-Zion Katz, Stage Managers. Technical Staff: Louis Yeger, Master Carpenter. David Gold, Master Electrician. George Nemser, Master Properties. Charles Gardner, Superintendent. M. Golub, Business Manager.

1 -- From the play program for "American Chassidim", Yiddish Art Theatre, 1928. Courtesy of YIVO.





Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

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