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The plays that were performed on the Yiddish stage were mainly written by Jews in the Yiddish language, which was the primary language that Jews in the Ashkenazi community usually spoke in Central Europe.

There were many different genres of Yiddish plays, from the melodrama to the operetta, from the musical comedy to more expressionist and modernist plays. At one time, professional Yiddish theatre was quite popular, especially among the Jewish masses.

The Yiddish theatre, however, did not exist solely in the Central and Eastern European countries, but also in any country that was home to the Jewish Diaspora, whether it be in the major cities of Western Europe, such as Paris, London or Berlin, or in South or Central America, such as in Buenos Aires or Mexico City. Yiddish theatre also was very popular among the Jewish immigrants who lived in New York City, especially those who resided on the teeming Lower East Side. At one time there were at least fourteen or fifteen Yiddish theatres that actively staged Yiddish plays in New York City.

The backgrounds of those who wrote the Yiddish plays, i.e. the playwright, were varied and each had wonderful stories to tell. From Jacob Gordin to Sholem Aleichem, from Sholem Asch to Peretz Hirschbein to I. L. Peretz, each writer made his or her own contribution to Jewish culture by describing in their own words the Jewish experience, its joys and its tragedies. Many plays were simply performed to entertain, for laughs; others were of a more serious ilk, often with a historical theme, such as those written by the famous Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin, or the plays staged later on by the great actor Maurice Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre troupe or Jacob Ben Ami.

Maurice Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre troupe meeting, New York, circa 1950s.

In this educational series, the Museum of the Yiddish Theatre strives to share with its followers an array of Yiddish plays -- not the scripts of the plays themselves, but synopses, i. e. summaries of the actions of the plays, as well as other interesting information about the productions, such as the names of those in the cast, critics' reviews of the production, still photographs from the show, and the like. It is hoped that you, the valued museum "visitor," will read each of the Museum's presentation with care, and use your imagination to optimal effect. You may like to imagine yourself as an attendee of a certain production: you might want to consider what was occurring in the world (or in the city) during that time, even what might have been going on within your own family the night of the performance. Perhaps, by participating in this experience, you also might gain the desire to learn more about the playwright and their own life experience that might have influenced their writings or the subject matter of the play, e.g. the Russian revolution, Jewish family life in Europe or in the United States, a religious theme, or simply the Jewish experience.

The Museum hopes that all of this will enlighten you and pique your interest in the Yiddish theatre.

Below is a listing of seventeen plays for which the Museum has created "educational pages." Enjoy the "journey"!





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


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