Yiddish Theater (Hebrew: תאטרון היידיש) began with the “Purimshpil,” outrageous comedic improvisational plays based on the biblical book of Esther, performed in synagogues by amateurs as part of the drunken festivities related to the Purim Holiday.
Professional Yiddish Theater began with Abraham Haim Lipke Goldfaden, who wrote, produced and directed dozens of Yiddish plays in the last quarter of the 19th century. Goldfaden and his troupe traveled throughout Europe performing Yiddish plays for Jewish audiences and later moved to New York City where they opened a theater.
Many traveling Yiddish theater groups also performed Yiddish versions of existing plays, most notably Shakespeare and Goethe.
Permanent Yiddish theaters sprung up in cities around the world, including Odessa, Vilna, and New York City. In New York, Yiddish theater was jump-started by 12-year-old immigrant Boris Thomashefsky, who fell in love with the European Yiddish show tunes sung by his coworkers in a tobacco sweatshop. He persuaded a rich tavern owner to finance the endeavor and introduced Yiddish theater to New York with an Abraham Goldfaden play in 1881. Over the next few decades, Yiddish theater grew substantially in New York, but most of these theaters no longer exist.
New York’s Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, founded in 1915, is the oldest continuous venue for Yiddish theatre in the world and continues to have an active calendar of Yiddish-language productions.
If you are traveling to Israel, you may want to visit the ” Yiddishpiel Theater”. The Theater was founded 22 years ago, with the aim of nourishing and exposing the wealth, greatness, and importance of Yiddish culture.
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