Messiahs of 1933: How American Yiddish Theatre Survived Adversity Through Satire

Temple University Press, 7 . 2008 . - 320 .
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Joel Schechter has rediscovered the funny and often politically-charged plays of the American Yiddish theatre of the 1930s. In Messiahs of 1933 he celebrates their satire, their radical imagination, and their commitment to social change. He introduces readers to the once-famous writers and actorsMoishe Nadir, David Pinski, Yosl Cutler, and otherswho brought into artistic form their visions of peace, social justice, and satire for all.

Messiahs of 1933 greatly enlarges our understanding of Yiddish theatre and culture in the United States. It examines the innovative stage performances created by the Artef collective, the Modicut puppeteers, and the Yiddish Unit of the Federal Theatre Project. And it introduces to contemporary readers some of the most popular theatre actors of the 30s, including Leo Fuchs, Menasha Skulnik, and Yetta Zwerling. Throughout, it includes relevant photographs and contemporary comic strips, along with the first English-language publication of excerpts from the featured plays.

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How Playwright Moishe Nadir and Artef Led America Out of the Great Depression to a Future of Full Employment Justice and Yiddish Satire for All
1
The Lower East Side Arises
37
How Soviet Yiddish Satire Fared in America
57
The Society of the Sorely Perplexed Takes the Stage
71
It Cant Happen Here in Yiddish
105
The Tailor Becomes a Storekeeper
121
Popular Yiddish Theatre Reconsidered
141
The Yiddish Puppetry of Maud and Cutler
157
Sholem Aleichemand the Communists
203
The Yiddish AntiWar Catalogue Reconsidered
221
Still Waiting for the Messiah
231
Appendix
239
Acknowledgments
245
Notes
247
Bibliography
279
Index
287

9 Leo Fuchs Yiddish Vaudevillian in Trouble
177
10 Yetta Zwerlings Comic Dybbuk
193

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55 - Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.
137 - ... detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standards of living necessary for health and general well-being; and to prevent the use of interstate commerce as the means of competition in the distribution of goods so produced, and as the means of spreading and perpetuating such substandard labor conditions among the workers of the several states.
229 - Let the States tremble, let the Nation weep, let Congress legislate its own delight let the President execute his own desire this Act done by my own voice, nameless...
16 - We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future. The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment. This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.
243 - ... material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist. Nevertheless, it is not in the form of the spoils which fall to the victor that the latter make their presence felt in the class struggle. They manifest themselves in this struggle as courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude. They have retroactive force and will constantly call in question every victory, past and present, of the rulers.
229 - O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me On the bridge over Republican River almost in tears to know how to speak the right language on the frosty broad road uphill between highway embankments I search for the language that is also yours almost all our language has been taxed by war.
35 - Social Democracy thought fit to assign to the working class the role of the redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.
47 - ... coming out of the crowd and addressed to it. The man who is speaking is one with the crowd; he does not present himself as its opponent, nor does he teach, accuse, or intimidate it. He laughs with it. There is not the slightest tone of morose seriousness in his oration, no fear, piety, or humility. This is an absolutely gay and fearless talk, free and frank, which echoes in the festive square beyond all verbal prohibitions, limitations, and conventions. At the same time, however, this entire...
218 - ... the apron, as he was accustomed to placing his paintings on walls or easels. The objects were painted with Chagallian foreshortening, with his own perspective, which did not consider any perspective of the stage. The spectators saw many perspectives; painted objects were contrasted with real objects; Chagall hated real objects as illegitimate disturbers of his cosmos and furiously hurled them off the stage; with the same rage, he painted over one might say plastered with color that indispensable...
218 - On the day of the premiere, Chagall walked into my dressing room. After preparing his colors, he set to work. He divided my face into two parts. One he painted green, the other yellow (as they say, 'green and yellow' [pale, downcast}). Chagall lifted my right eyebrow two centimeters higher than the left. The wrinkles around my nose and lips spread all over my face. These wrinkle lines highlighted Menakhem-Mendel's tragic lot. "I looked in the mirror and was convinced that the makeup created the dynamism...

 (2008)

Joel Schechter is Professor of Theatre Arts at San Francisco State University. He has written a number of books about satirists and circus clowns, and created a series of comic strips with the illustrator Spain.