YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  SENDER BLANK                                                 

SENDER BLANK, by Sholom Aleichem

“Sender Blank" was written by Sholem Aleichem, and exists in two parts and six scenes.

The dramatization and direction was by Jacob Rothbaum, with music by Sholom Secunda, and settings by Alexander Chertov.

The play opened on 20 November 1940 at the Yiddish Art Theatre, 2nd Avenue and 4th Street in New York City.

The scene of action takes place in Berditchev, Russia, in the year 1910.

This season was the twenty-fifth in the history of the Yiddish Art Theatre.

This Yiddish Art Theatre production included the following cast:

Maurice Schwartz, Lucy Gehrman, Muni Serebrov, Leon Gold, Hannah Hollander, Luba Kadison, Anatole Winogradoff, Anna Appel, Ben Zion Shoenfeld, Mark Schweid, Celia Lipzin, Goldie Lubritsky, Misha Gehrman, Judith Abarbanel, Maurice Krohner, Misha Fishzon, Izidore Casher, Abraham Teitelbaum, Lazar Freed, Solomon Krause, William Secunda, Pauline Hoffman, Ben Zion Katz, Liza Varon, Louis Heyman, Meyer Sherr, Morris Bielavsky, Max Friedlander, Harold Kronsky, Morris Steinberg and Bertha de Costa.


photo: Maurice Schwartz.
From play program of "Sender Blank", 1940.

So, here is the synopsis of Sholom Aleichem's "Sender Blank". The name of the actor who portrayed the particular role is in parentheses):



Scene 1: Sender Blank (Maurice Schwartz), the richest man in the town of Berditchev, is a self-made man.

He is the son of a poor baker, and he worked hard and suffered much until he reached his present position -- "a merchant of the first rank," a director of the Commerce Bank, and the town's leading citizen. He is a jolly good fellow, generous, very fond of his food, loves his wife (his second wife) Miriam (Lucy Gehrman), who is younger than himself. Even more than his wife, does he love her child, his youngest son Marcus (Muni Serebrov). This infuriates his older children, by his first wife, but they dare not show their feelings for fear of losing their share of the inheritance.

While Sender and his wife are preparing to leave for Marienbad the impoverished Reb Zhiamke (Misha Gehrman), comes to ask for a loan. Sender has long been nursing a grudge against this man. When Reb Zhiamke was rich, he wouldn't even condescend to return Sender's greeting, even though he is now willing to give his consent to the marriage of his daughter Lizotchka (Judith Abarbanel) to Sender's beloved son Marcus. Now Sender gives vent to his pent-up feelings. He works himself up to such a pitch that he becomes violently ill. Shortly before he had stopped at a restaurant for a bite and the few orders of fish and meat were still undigested in his stomach, which becomes upset by the excitement. With great difficulty, Sender is put to bed, moaning all the while that he is about to die.

Scene 2: The house is in an uproar over Sender's sickness. The town doctor (Ben Zion Shoenfeld) is unable to diagnose the ailment, and they call Professor Klotz (Lazar Freed), a famous doctor who is more interested in chess than in medicine. All of Sender's children assemble. His daughter Reveka (Luba Kadison) is here with her husband Ossip (Anatole Winagradoff), a card-playing, cabaret-frequenting Don Quixote, who is anxious to expedite the drawing up of the will. When Sender's older son objects to the fellow's greed, his own wife Sonya (Hannah Hollander) threatens him with a divorce unless he too takes a hand in the matter. Townspeople, representatives of all sorts of institutions, come to visit the sick man, so that he may remember the community in his will. Reb Kalmen (Izidore Casher), the head of the Burial Society arrives unable to conceal his joy over the fact that the death of the rich man will pay enough to enable the Society to bury the poor fellows for nothing. All, including the servants, calculate their shares of the inheritance, and wait impatiently for Sender to breathe his last.

Scene 3: But Sender does not care to die just yet. He moans and he groans and calls for Professor Klotz every tie his insides roll up under his heart. His older sister comes in wailing as if he were already dead. She promises to visit his grave every year and asks him to interest the good spirits in her behalf. Finally the famous Professor Klotz arrives. After a brief examination he announces that Sender is suffering from a rare malady from which he must surely die. Sender protests that all he ate was three orders of fish and a half a goose. But the doctor is adamant; Sender must die tonight, and he better make out his will before it is too late. Ossip immediately hands him pen and paper at the sight of which Sender gets up with a start yelling that he is not going to die. No Sir! His father lived to be eighty-eight, his grandfather died at the age of a hundred-and-ten-- no sir, he is not going to die at fifty-five. And why must he die? Because he ate a couple of pieces of fish! He jumps out of bed, starts pacing the room waving his hands, shouting, "I must live! I must live!"


Scene 1: Sender's wife is having one fainting spell after another. Each time she realizes the wonderful husband she is about to lose, she faints. The children are all tired out; no one slept a wink throughout the night, but Sender did not die despite the professor's diagnosis. But the good professor is not discouraged. He assures all that this night Sender will positively pass into the Great Beyond. Ossip and Reveka are scheming to prevent the stepmother and her son Marcus from getting the biggest part of the estate. The other children have plans of their own. They all start quarreling and fighting over their shares of the inheritance. The noise wakes Sender and he comes into the room. Embarrassed and frightened, they all leave save the youngest Marcus, who asks his father's permission to marry Lizotchka.

Instead of going back to bed as his wife asks him to do, Sender orders that they bring him a bottle of wine and honey cake. Since die he must, he may as well enjoy his last moments on earth. His keen sense for food detects the smell of roast duck. The professor drops in and is very much perturbed at finding the patient so much alive. Sender probes the doctor as to the cause of his death: Is it cancer? perhaps kidneys? or maybe the liver? Yes, he always liked liver and ate a great deal of it. The professor is impatient with him; it's none of his business what causes him to die. All Sender is asked to do is follow orders and die. In a huff the professor leaves the room.

Left alone Sender sadly takes leave of his house and furnishings and sits down to write his will. As he does so he sees his image in the mirror. For a while he contemplates his full round cheeks, his protruding paunch, then looks hungrily at the roast duck and finally cries out: "God Almighty, how can anyone with my appetite sit down to write a will? Those people must be crazy, or maybe I am."

Scene 2: A rumor spread in town that Sender finally made out his will and died. Hordes of people have descended upon the house. Paupers, cripples, beggars as well as the representatives of various charities, have come in the expectation of getting donations on the rich man's death. The beadle of the synagogue demands his share for being the first one to bring good news of Sender's death to the town; the head of the Burial Society demands twenty-thousand rubles or else he'll refuse to bury him. There is great commotion, everyone is pushing and yelling. The people of the house try to quiet the crowd, telling them that Sender hasn't died yet. But the head of the Burial Society refuses to listen. It's too late now. He ordered the grave to be dug and one cannot put the diggers in such a predicament. Ossip threatens to call the police, and Professor Klotz sadly admits that Sender has repeatedly disobeyed his orders. Excitement runs high, until Sender appears on the balcony. The crowd is horror-stricken. Someone calls out that the dead has been resurrected, but Sender assures them that the time for his resurrection hasn't come yet. He is not quite ready to leave this beautiful world merely to oblige the town and his family.

Scene 3: The family is celebrating Sender's recovery. The impoverished Reb Zhiamka is here with his daughter Lizotchka. Sender has given his consent to the marriage of his son and Lizotchka. The head of the Burial Society wants Sender to tell them what the Angel of Death looks like, since he was dead once. Yes, he died, Sender says, but at that time a new Sender was born. This new Sender will not live like the old one -- for himself only. He will distribute his wealth among the poor and the needy. His children protest vehemently against such crazy notions. A heated quarrel breaks out and Ossip slaps Marcus' face. Sender orders all out of his house safe his wife, his beloved son and his bride Lizotchka and her father. He then asks Marcus to sing and Lizotchka to play. He orders the windows be opened, that the neighbors too may enjoy the singing; and the doors be opened, that the neighbors too may enjoy the singing; and the doors be opened, that the poor may enter. Sender is a new man with a warm heart for the suffering of others and a fuller and happier life for himself.

Executive Staff (For the YAT): William Roland, General Manager; Nathan Parnes, House Manager; Menachem Edelheit, Theatre Parties; William Mercur, Yiddish Press Representative; James Proctor, English Press Representative; Jay Williams, Ass't Representative; Martin Schwartz and Ben Chasen, Treasurers; Thelma Lippe, Lecturer. For Maurice Schwartz: Milton Weintraub, Company Manager; Matilda Neuman, Secretary; Sholom Secunda, Musical Director; Ben Shoenfeld, Ass't Stage Manager; Max Frielander, Librarian.

Technical Staff: William Mensching, Carpenter; Joseph Lieberson, Electrician; Louis Lieberson, Propertyman; Samuel Lehrer, Wardrobe Master; Alexander Chertov, Scenic Artist; Ben Zion Katz, Stage Manager. Credits: Meth & Gropper, Costumes; Zauder Bros., Wigs; Sigmund Gottlober, Publisher, Programs, Gowns Executed by Suzanne Frisch; Advertising, Walter H. Morin, Advertising Guild, Inc.

1 -- From the play program for "Sender Blank", New York, 1940. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.





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

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