Yiddish Theatre

Yiddish Theatre

Yiddish theatre originated in traditional plays enacted at the Jewish festival of Purim, telling the story of the biblical Book of Esther. Yiddish versions of the story developed among the Ashkenazi Jews of northern and eastern Europe, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. At the same time the Haskalah movement, or Jewish enlightenment, inspired poets and playwrights who had previously used Hebrew to write in the more widely spoken Yiddish language.

Abraham Goldfaden founded the first modern, professional Yiddish theatre in 1876 in Romania. Goldfaden's troupe travelled throughout Europe. In 1887 it opened a theatre in New York, for which Goldfaden wrote, directed, and produced operettas. New York became the centre of Yiddish theatre, but London was also extremely important, with a number of dedicated theatres around the East End.

The audiences were drawn from the local population of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. For most of these people, Yiddish was their first language, and so it was extremely important for them to establish their own cultural institutions. Through the Yiddish theatre, they were part of a worldwide Jewish community, enjoying the same plays as people across Europe and America.

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