Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Reuben Weissman


Born on 25 February 1855 in Odessa, Ukraine. His father was a shokhet (ritual slaughterer), then an owner of a restaurant, who gave him a traditional, Jewish education with designs to make him a rabbi. W. learned Gemorah until he was thirteen, with breaks, in the Odessa yeshiva, afterwards in the Kishinev and Volozhin yeshiva and German and Russian in the Russian folkshul. Due to his father's death, W. had to become the breadwinner at home. He withdrew from his studies and went to work for a Jewish lawyer copying acts with "his beautiful handwriting." The lawyer took him a Russian theatre to Ostrovsky's ""Bielugin's khasene," and later to "Boris Gudunov," and right away it became clear there the influence that the educated can exercise through the Yiddish theatre, that plays of the Yiddish folk life should be performed, especially from Jewish history.

With that thought in mind, W. dedicated his entire attention [to this]: he neglected due to his work with a lawyer and dramatized the entire Hebrew novel "Tsadik unusha" as a drama in five acts, under the name of "Di nekome," which was later called "Don Yitzhak Abarbanel."

Visiting with the Yiddish folksingers in the wine cellars and the productions of Rosenberg-Spivakovsky's troupe, and later of Goldfaden's troupe, W. became, per the advice of Goldfaden, almost the first professional prompter for Yiddish theatre. Later W. traveled with Gradner across the Crimea and entered into the troupe of Lerner.


In 1882 W. was engaged for America as a prompter in Zilberman's Oriental Theatre, and in a span of thirty-eight years was a prompter for the prominent troupes.

W. wrote and adapted the following plays, which were performed in America: his dramatization "Di nekome," under the name "Don Yitzhak Abarbanel," "Moshe Rabeinu" or "Yitskias mtsrim un kries yom-suf" and "Iz zi meshuge?" or (later called) "Di gemakhte meshugene" (all staged in 1887 in the Windsor Theatre), "Amnon and Tamar" (dramatized from Mapu's novel "Ahavas tsion," staged in 1888), "Sarah" or "Tsurik fun sing sing" (adapted from the Russian play "Di kinder-ganevte," staged in 1891), "Lebn far lebn" (adapted from "Di dermordung fun kaverle," staged by Kessler in the Thalia Theatre); his translation and adaptation of Shakespeare's "Shylock der koyfman fun venedig (Shylock, the Merchant of Venice)" (9 February 1894); the translation "Fatanitsa" or "Der rusish-terkisher krig" (1896), the comedy "Der golem(?)" or "Man un vayb (Man and Wife)" (adapted from Ostrovsky's "Bielugins khasene," staged in November 1901 in the People's Theatre), and the adaptation "Zaraya" or "Di sheyne yidin" (1908).

He also published several chapters of memoirs about the Yiddish theatre and had edited various theatre publications.

W. was the first president of the Yiddish Actors Local, four years a member of the Executive (Board) of the Actor's Union, and also Vice-President, one of the founders of the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance, and a member in the Editorial Collegium of the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

W.'s daughters, Dora and Bessie, act on the Yiddish stage. His son-in-law was the Yiddish-English actor Barney Bernard.

In the last years, W. withdrew from the stage and from writing, and [now] is active only in the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance.

M. E.

  • Z. Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. I, p. 966.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. II, p. 42, and the list of plays.

  • Jacob P. Adler -- 40 yohr oyf der bine, "Di varhayt," N. Y., 20 October 1917.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Yidishe dramaturgen, "Di yidishe velt," Cleveland, 19 December 1928.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 701.

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