Thursday, February 18, 2010

Question: My elderly neighbor tells me his grandfather was an actor in the Yiddish theatre around the turn of the previous century. He'd like to find out if anything was written about his grandfather's career.

Answer: We suggest he check the Leksikon Fun Yidishn Teater [Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre], compiled and edited by Zalmen Zylbercwaig (1931-1969). It's 6 volumes attempt to provide biographical entries on actors, singers, writers and all those involved in the Yiddish theatre, in all geographic areas. The entries range from one paragraph to many pages in length. Many entries include a bibliography listing newspaper and magazine articles. The Lexikon is in Yiddish.

The New York Public Library has compiled a Cumulative Index of names [in Yiddish] to all the Lexikon's volumes. Here is a more complete description of this reference work. has compiled two name indexes, transliterated into the Roman alphabet, of Zylbercwaig's works: this is a name index to vol. 5 of his Leksikon, and this is a name index to his Album of the Yiddish Theatre (1937)

There is no comprehensive Yiddish theater biographical dictionary written in English. However, English readers interested in the Yiddish theater may enjoy the following resources:

Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater by Nahma Sandrow (1977)
Yiddish Theatre: New Approaches edited by Joel Berkowitz (2003)
Jewish Theatre: A Global View edited by Edna Nahshon (2009)

An article about the Yiddish theater from the Encyclopedia Judaica is available via

All About Jewish Theatre provides research materials, as well as current news in the world of Jewish performing arts.

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