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Yiddish Theatre in London

This virtual exhibition from the Jewish Museum London reveals a fascinating history. From the late 19th century, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe brought a rich and expressive form of theatre to the East End of London. Plays were performed in Yiddish, the language spoken by Central and Eastern European Jews. They ranged from comedy to tragedy, drawing on Yiddish folk tales, adaptations of Shakespeare and stories of immigrant life. The early 20th century was the heyday of Yiddish theatre in London, with packed theatres and long queues for tickets.

In this exhibition you can find out about the people, buildings and plays that made Yiddish theatre in London so special, as well as explore the unique collection of Yiddish theatre photographs, documents and objects held at the Jewish Museum London.

Grand Palais 1960s Oil painting by Maurice Sochachewsky, showing a performance at the Grand Palais starring Meier Tzelniker (detail), c.1960s, courtesy of Jewish Museum London

The first purpose-built Yiddish theatre opened in Princes Street in 1886 and a number of others were in use for the following decades, with varying success. The last remaining Yiddish theatre, the Grand Palais, closed in 1970.

Leo Fuchs and Company
Leo Fuchs and Grand Palais Company. The cast rehearsing at the Grand Palais theatre, 1956, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.

Jacob P Adler (1855-1926)
Adler was born in Odessa in 1855 and started his theatre career touring with Abraham Goldfaden’s theatre company. Following the ban on Yiddish performance in the Russian Empire in 1883, Adler migrated to London. He was a popular performer at the newly-built Hebrew Dramatic Club in Princes Street, but following its closure in 1887 he left for the United States. He achieved great success there, but never forgot his time in London and from 1901 until the 1920s made regular guest appearances at the Standard Theatre and the Pavilion.

Meier (1898-1980) and Anna Tzelniker (1922-)
King of Lampedusa

Actors Meier and Anna Tzelniker on stage during a performance of The King of Lampedusa, 1944, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.

Meier Tzelniker was born in Romania, and began his career in Yiddish theatre as a child. In the 1920s he toured throughout Europe and finally settled in England, forming the Jewish National Theatre in 1936 with Fanny Waxman. His daughter Anna began performing at an early age. During World War II, Meier produced and starred alongside his daughter in the Grand Palais hit The King of Lampedusa. While Anna found roles on the English stage after the war, she continued to perform in Yiddish after the closure of the Grand Palais in 1970.

Fanny Waxman
Fanny Waxman, by Hyman Polsky, c.1913, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.

Shulamith
The opera Shulamith was written in 1883 by the father of modern Yiddish theatre, Abraham Goldfaden. Shulamith was the opening performance at the Hebrew Dramatic Club in Princes Street in 1886 and ever-popular with the crowds, it returned to the Yiddish stage in London in the 1910s and 20s. The well-loved lullaby Raisins and Almonds was written by Goldfaden for the opera.

Jewish King Lear Studio photograph of Benjamin Fishzon as David Moishele, and Jenny Kaiser, as his youngest daughter Teibele, in Jacob Gordin's The Jewish King Lear, 1900,  courtesy of Jewish Museum London

Pavilion Theatre
Photograph of the Pavillion theatre in Whitechapel Road c.1910, courtesy of Jewish Museum London

Dudi's Fiddle Poster
Poster for the play Dudi's Fiddle at the Pavilion Theatre, 1900s, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.

Jacob Adler
Signed photograph of Jacob P Adler presented to Fanny Waxman, by Hyman Polsky, 1918, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.

Shulamith Sheet Music
Sheet music from the opera Shulamith by Abraham Goldfaden, arranged for piano, violin or voice, 1904, courtesy of Jewish Museum London.
Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from Ben Uri - The London Jewish Museum of Art, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam,
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