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  YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  THE WATER CARRIER                                                 

THE WATER CARRIER1, by Jacob Prager

(Yiddish: Der vaser-treger)

"The Water Carrier" is a folk-comedy, with music, in two acts by Jacob Prager.

The play opened on 24 December 1936 by the Yiddish Art Theatre at the 49th Street Theatre (W. of Broadway). Abraham Weinstein, Lessee. Boris Bernardi, House Manager. Directed by Maurice Schwartz, musical score by Alexander Olshanetsky, settings and costumes by Robert Van Rosen and dances by Lillian Shapero.

Executive Staff: Martin Schwartz, Leon Hoffman, Managers. Nat Dorfman, English Press Agent. Gertrude Wagner, Treasurer. Technical Staff: Ben Katz, Stage Manager. Abe Mitnick, Carpenter. Joe Burdin, Electrician. Edward Kirtland, Properties. Wigs by Zauder Bros. Piano by Kramer. Costumes by Meth & Gropper.


photo: Maurice Schwartz and Anna Teitelbaum in "The Water Carrier."
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

The cast of this production included:

Maurice Schwartz, Alex Tenenholtz, Anna Appel, Berta Gerstin, Michel Rosenberg, Anna Teitelbaum, Anatole Winogradoff, Morris Silberkasten, Max Friedlander, Samuel Lehrer, Wolf Goldfaden, Zvi Scooler, Bronia Newman, Sonia Radina, Ben Basenko, Nadia Niroslavsky, Philo Biro, Solomon Krause, Harvey Kier, Louis Hyman, Albert Golub, Israel Sanik and Robert Harris.

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



Years and years ago in a small town in Poland, lived a water-carrier named Simche Plachte (Maurice Schwartz). He had neither mother nor father. He bragged that he was born from a rock, big and strong, and that he immediately became a water-carrier. He supplied the entire town with drinking water for which he received a bit of bread, the leavings from the kitchen or some old clothes.

Yossele Parnos (Alex Tenenholtz), the chief Sexton to the Rabbi, and proprietor of the town hotel, exploited Simche more than anyone else in town. Day and night he carried water for the wealthy Parnos but he could not fill the water barrel to the top, because under this barrel, the crafty Sexton had built seven more barrels.

The water-carrier is in love with Yossele's servant girl Tsipe (Berta Gerstin). She loves him also but she does not want to marry him because he is poor. The small, emaciated orphan Baile (Anna Teitelbaum) is sorry for him and feeds him more than the other servants in town; because Sirmche is grateful to her, he marries her.

Simche is very naive and superstitious. His wife Baile tells him that she dreamed that her deceased Mother and Father told her that he is destined to become a great Rabbi, and that in her attic is a caftan and "chtryrnel" (a fur cap) ready for him for thousands of years. The fanatic Jews of the town who believe in the miraculous wonders of the Holy "Tsaddiks" laugh and make fun of this Bogus Rabbi until the "Poretz" (lord of the town) (Morris Silberkasten) threatens the Jews that he will take all their possessions unless his lost horse is returned to him. The Water-Carrier, in an innocent manner, tells the "Poretz" to run to the woods and there he will find his horse. The "Poretz" does as Sirnche tells him and there finds the horse. For this miracle he recognizes in Simche a great Rabbi.

Reb' Yossele Parnos and a petty Lithuanian merchant (Michael Rosenberg) see an opportunity to make money by proclaiming him a miracle man and becoming his Sextons.

The town accepts the new "Rabbi". Tsipe, the servant girl, is besides herself with regret because she did not marry the "Water-Carrier". His wife, Baile the orphan, becomes the "Rebitzen" (the Rabbi's Wife) and now gets even with the town's elite who mistreated her when she was their servant.

With merriment and song the Jews of the town acclaim Simche the greatest "Tsaddik" and Miracle man.


Money pours in on all sides. Poor Jews, women and children from towns and villages come here knocking at the "Rabbi's" door clamoring for his help. Yossele and the Lithuanian make them pay well. Sirnche sits in his private study and eats delicacies and longs for Tsipe. He hates Baile, his wife. His thoughts are only of Tsipe. He begs his sextons to allow him to bring her a couple of pails of water, but they do not allow it, because they know that if they let her in to see Simche, it would be the end of their "Golden Calf". Tsipe tries to see the Rabbi, but she is not permitted in. Simche dreams and longs and sighs for Tsipe, but the Sextons stuff him with delicious food all day long to take his mind off her.

He causes Yossele and the Lithuanian, so much trouble that they are ready to grant him a divorce from his wife, Baile, so that he may marry Tsipe but Baile rules with an iron hand and she laughs at the Sextons.

When the Jews crowd into the "Rabbi's" study for his blessings, Tsipe sneaks in with them. When Simche sees her he is overjoyed and protects her from the wrath of the Sextons, who try to put her out. Simche is ready to leave everything and run away with his beloved Tsipe, so the Sextons conclude that it was so fated in Heaven that Tsipe and the "Rabbi" be mated.

The "Poretz" brings a golden chair in which to carry the "Rabbi" to his palace so that he may chase the ghosts from there. As they lift the "Rabbi" to the chair, he cries out in pain that they let him down and runs back to his private room. Yossele convinces the Jews that the "Rabbi" received a message from Heaven to teach the Torah to the Angels. Baile, the "Rabbi's" wife for fear of losing her husband, discloses the truth. She says that it is not true that Simche is a Rabbi, but that he is an imposter. The crowd is horrified and so is Simche because he never took advantage of or fooled anyone in his life; all he did was carry water to the homes of the Jews without charge. He discards his Rabbinical attire and puts on his own water-carrier's clothes again and walks away, a beaten, broken-hearted, and disillusioned man.

The Sextons, in order to save their skins, convince the Jews that Tsipe has become the "Rebbitzen" until the "Rabbi" returns from Heaven where he went to teach the Torah. The fanatic Jews believe them until Tsipe exposes the truth, that all the money given for the "Rabbi" was taken by the Sextons, and that they deceived not only the town but also Simche the Water-Carrier.

The "Poretz" and the Jews grab the Sextons and place them on the tables where they whip them for their sins. 

Simcha comes back as Water-Carrier and promises all the Jews that he will bring them water for the rest of his life to pay for the delicious food that was given him these last few weeks when he was "Rabbi".

The "Poretz" refuses to acknowledge any other Rabbi but Simche and orders the Jews to carry the Water-Carrier through the town with pomp and ceremony. He presents him with Yossele's house and orders him to marry Tsipe. The Sextons are forced to carry the golden chair through the streets of the town in which the Water-Carrier sits in state. The Jews sing and dance because they see in Simche the kind heart of an honest man. They rejoice with the happy pair -- Simche the Water-Carrier and Tsipe the servant girl. 


1 -- From the play program for "The Water Carrier", Yiddish Art Theatre, 1936. Courtesy of YIVO.


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

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