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 YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  THE TWO KOONEYLEMELS                                                 

THE TWO KOONEYLEMELS1, by Avraham Goldfaden

(Yiddish: Di tsvey kuni lemels)

Here is the cast from the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play when it opened at the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York City, on March 15, 1924:

Mark Schweid, Bina Abramowitz, Bertha Gersten, Izidore Casher, Maurice Schwartz, Wolf Goldfaden, Julius Adler, Leah Meltzer, Yudel Dubinsky, Leon Seidenberg, Samuel Garfunkel, Morris Strassberg, Samuel Schneider, Abraham Kubansky, Wolf Yoskowitz, Morris Optaker and Philip Sherman.

So, here is the synopsis of Goldfaden's "The Two Kooneylemels." The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:


For a proper understanding of this play, the spectator must bear in mind that it was written nearly half-a-century ago, when the Haskalah movement among the Jews of Eastern Europe--a movement for secular education and modern views of live--was at its height and a fierce battle was raging between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists.

Practically all of the Jewish writers were champions of the new order, and they never tired of lashing and deriding their opponents. The particular butt of their ridicule was the fanatical Hassid with his uncouth dress and superstitious beliefs who, in selecting a husband for his daughter, took into consideration not her happiness, but the groom's pedigree.

Abraham Goldfaden--poet, composer, actor, playwright, and father of the Yiddish stage--was one of the leaders of the Haskalah movement, and the present play deals with the struggle between the old and the new.



photo: Program cover for "The Two Kooneylemels," 1925.


Scene 1--The Town Lunatic--an important institution in every Jewish community in Eastern Europe--is disporting himself in the street with an improvised drum and singing a song whose burden is that if Kooneylemel is fit to marry, why not he?

Scene 2-- A number of Hasidim are partaking at R' Pinchas' (Mark Schweid) house of the feast that marks the passing of the Sabbath. They are interrupted by the arrival of Hotzmakh (Yudel Dubinsky)-- peddler, marriage broker, man about town, and shrewd fool, a Figaro of the Mosaic Persuasion--who offers them his wares. Finding no customers, he departs, followed presently by most of the guests, who on leaving express the hope that Chayele'Caroline (Bertha Kasten), the hosts' only child, may soon be a bride. R' Pinchas would gladly see his daughter married, provided she marries a Hassid of good family. Unfortunately she prefers a modern fellow. Worse yet, his wife Rivkah (Bina Abramowitz) is on their daughter's side and has actually spoiled her by engaging for her tutor a godless student Max (Wolf Goldfaden). Rivkah joins him and insists that their daughter must marry only for love

Scene 3-- Kalman (Julius Adler), a marriage broker, tells R' Pichas of a wonderful young man for his daughter--the pious Koonylemmel (Maurice Schwartz), son of R' Sholom of Shaharayevka (Izidor Casher), prominent merchant and community leader. He admits the young man has some shortcomings--he is blind in one eye, halts and stammers--but he ingeniously minimizes them, the main thing being piety and pedigree. R' Pinchas agres and offers 1,000 rubles as dowry. They arrange to have Kooneylemel sto first at Kalman's house, where R' Pinchas can come to see him by himself.

Scene 4-- Rivkah sends her daughter, who has changed her name from Chayele to Caroline, for a walk in the park, and engages in another battle of word with her husband.

Scene 5-- Max, Caroline's tutor and lover, is in the park feeling blue because R' Pinchas no longer permits him to teach is daughter. His student friends console him. Caroline arrives and tells him about the Kooneylemel match. It turns out that Kooneylemel is his cousin by marriage, being the stepson of Max's uncle. Max outlines his plan for outwitting her father by disguising as Kooneylemel.

Wolf Goldfaden (lt., as Max),
and Maurice Schwartz as Kooneylemel


Scene 1--Kalman bids his all too marriageable daughter Leba (Leah Meltzer) prepare the house and set the table for Kooneylemel, who is expected any minute. Leba bemoans her fate: her father gets husbands for every girl, but not for her. Kalman promises to find her a husband with the commission he will get from R' Pinchas.

Scene 2-- Max arrives, disguised as Kooneylemel. Leba remarks in an aside that R' Pinchas is welcome to his bargain. Kalman departs, and Max, throwing off his mask, kneels before Leba and avows his love for her, saying he disguised himself in order to be able to see her. Leba is ready to elope at once with the handsome young man, but Max tells her to wait as he must go away for the time being.

Scene 3-- R' Sholom, at heart a modernist, is told by the Hasidim that they will again elect him head of the community. Bidding them leave him, he reads Kalman's letter, promising a match between his stepson and R' Pinchas' daughter. The thing seems to him absurd, but he is glad to get rid of Kooneylemel. He tells Kooneylemel about it, but the letter is incredulous. He gives him the letter and bides him set out the next day for Odessa, where he will join him later.

Scene 4-- Procession of the Sacred Scrolls.  The Hasidim are escorting the newly elected President to the Synagogue, followed by Kooneylemel and his school companions carrying paper flags.


Scene 1-- R' Pinchas informs his wife that he has dispatched Hotzmach to Shaharayevka in order to bring Kooneylemel directly to their house, so as to avoid gossip in case they reject the young man. He begs her not to influence their daughter against the match, promising that he will not force her to marry against her will. Hotzmach enters and reports the arrival of Kooneylemel. He is enjoined to keep the matter secret, especially from Kalman.

Scene 2-- R' Pinchas tells his daughter about the match and is elated to find her favorably disposed.

Scene 3-- Kooneylemel arrives at R' Pinchas'. He rebukes Caroline for her godlessness in bearing an un-Jewish name, and again for not believing in ghosts. When Reb' Pinchas and Rivkah withdraw, he protests against being left alone with a woman. Caroline, who believes it is her lover Max, compliments him on his clever disguise and tells him to be his natural self now they are alone. Kooneylemel does not understand, and Caroline is nonplussed. Finally she tries to kiss him, and he flees in terror, leaving her puzzled and peeved.

Scene 4-- R' Pinchas realizes his mistake and wrings his hands in despair, to the accompaniment of his wife's taunts. To his and her surprise, Caroline insists on having Kooneylemel. R' Pinchas concludes that Kooneylemel must be one of the Thirty-Six Just Men who go around in disguise, and who can perform miracles. Caroline confirms his belief by saying that when she tried to kiss Kooneylemel, he vanished in the air.

Scene 5-- Max arrives disguished as Kooneylemel and begs to be left alone with Caroline. "I could swear it is another man," says R' Pinchas, "what a miracle!" When the lovers are left alone, Caroline remains aloof and cold to Max. The situation is soon cleared up, and the lovers are reconciled. She tells him her father takes him for one of the "Thirty-Six." That gives Max and idea, and he jots down a note for her to give to his comrades.

Scene 6-- Kooneylemel enters and surprises them in their act of embracing. Max accuses him of being an imposter, trying to cheat R' Pinchas out of 1,000 rubles. Kooneylemel produces Kalman's letter and is promptly denounced as a forger. Max threatens to turn him over to the police unless he leaves town, and Kooneylemel promises to go away at once.

Scene 7-- Hearing R' Pinchas' footsteps, Max pretends to be engrossed in study, and then calls upon the spirits of his ancestors, particularly that of his great-grandfather R' Kloynimis, to appear and tell him whether it is heaven's will that he marry R' Pinchas' daughter. The awe-stricken R' Pinchas is now certain the young man is one of the "Thirty-Six" and readily agrees to give his daughter in marriage to so holy a man. The spirits then appear amid thunder and lightning and approve the match.


Scene 1-- The engagement party at R' Pinchas'.  Max urges haste, but R' Pinchas insists on waiting for the arrival of R' Sholom before solemnizing the betrothal.

Scene 2-- Kooneylemel bursts in, triumphantly claiming to be the one and only Kooneylemel, but is spurned by R' Pinchas as a rank imposter.

Scene 3-- Kalman rushes in and rebukes Kooneylemel for having run away, and R' Pinchas for having lured the young man away and arranged the engagement without the marriage broker's knowledge. R' Pinchas explains that he had the young man come directly to his house. Kalman insists that Kooneylemel first stopped at his house, which the latter denies. Thereupon both Kalman and R' Pinchas denounce him as an imposter.

Scene 4-- Just then Leba appears and accuses him of having made love to her and then runs away. Kooneylemel swears he does not know her, and she threatens to expose him by tearing off his false beard, whereupon he flees in terror.

Scene 5-- R' Sholom finally arrives and identifies his stepson, to the utter confusion of R' Pinchas. Seeing in all this his nephew Max's hand, the new arrival enlightens R' Pinchas and urges him to give up his foolish Hasidic notions. Max arrives stylishly dressed and clears up everything. By way of atonement to Leba for having made her believe he loved her, he offers to give her half of his dowry, provided she agrees to marry Kooneylemel. Thereupon the betrothal of Max and Caroline takes place. To enlighten R' Pinchas still more, Max causes the spirits of his ancestors to appear again. The spirits turn out to be students disguised as ghosts--all, that is, except that of R' Kloynimis, which is impersonated by Hotzmakh, Max's chief accomplice.


-- From the theatre program for "The Two Kooneylemels," Yiddish Art Theatre, 1925.

2 -- Synopsis prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz.


Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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