This joint Israel-Romania stamp issue commemorates the establishment of the Yiddish Theatre in Iasi, Romania in 1876 and the accomplishments of the founder of Jewish theatre, Abraham Goldfaden.
Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908), a poet and father of the Jewish Theatre, was born in the town of Starconstantin in the Volhynia region, one of the centers of Jewish Enlightenment in southern Russia. His first book of Hebrew poems, "Tsitsim UphracNm" (Buds and Flowers), was published in 1865, after which he went on to publish poems in Yiddish. Goldfaden set some of his poems to folk melodies and they achieved such great popularity that some are even sung to this day, including the most well-known of his songs, "Raisins and Almonds".
Goldfaden arrived in Iasi, Romania in 1876 in order to publish a newspaper representing the Jewish Enlightenment. There he nut on the first play improvised in Yiddish, integrating his already well-known songs and featuring two wandering actor-singers. Overnight he became the founder of the modern Jewish Theatre, a title he justifiably awarded himself. Up to that point, theatre productions in the Jewish community were mainly held as part of the Purim holiday festivities (Purim Shpil), while plays written by followers of the Enlightenment were meant only to be read. The Orthodox Jewish community rejected the theatre institution but Goldfaden was not deterred and dedicated himself to the theatre he had founded, turning it into a legitimate part of Jewish culture. His theatre merged the folkloristic roots of Jewish culture with the ideas of the Enlightenment and was influenced by the Russian-European melodrama and operetta. His troupe gave rise to many other theatre troupes, which frequently made use of his repertoire, including plays such as: "The Witch", "The Two Kuni Lemls" and "Shmendrik".
Over the course of thirty years, Goldfaden wrote more than 50 plays, which he directed, set to music and produced, even building and designing the sets and costumes. His productions allowed actors to hone their craft and developed an audience of theatre proponents. He travelled throughout Europe, Russia and the Ukraine with his troupe. His piays were fraught with scathing criticism of the religious establishment and spoke out against inconsistencies within Jewish society, which was straddling the line between tradition and progress on the eve of the 20th century. His plays were received enthusiastically and he gave the Jewish stage legendary characters such as Bobe Yakhne, Miraleh the Orphan, Hotzmach, Shmendrik and Kuni Leml.
At the height of his activities in Russia, Goldfaden's troupe numbered 40 actors and actresses and he began writing historical melodramas: "Shulamith", "Dr. Almasado", "Judah the Maccabean" and "Bar Kochva". Always attentive to his audience and to the goings on around him, Goldfaden wrote "Bar Kochva" in order to awaken awareness and national pride within his audience in reaction to the wave of pogroms that washed over Russia.
In 1883, the troupe disbanded after the Czar issued a proclamation banning the production of Yiddish plays within the realms of the Russian empire. Goldfaden continued to wander through Europe and America on his own. Upon arriving in America in 1887, he discovered that his former actors were performing his old repertoire but his theatrical endeavors in the New World were rejected. Although unable to rekindle his days of glory in the theatre, he continued to pen new plays, such as "Lo Tachmod" (The Tenth Commandment or Though Shalt Not Covet), "Days of the Messiah?!" and "The Binding of Isaac", which he produced with various troupes in many places. He wrote and produced his Hebrew-language play "David in War" featuring a group of youths in a Zionist club in New York. Thus he also considered himself to be the father of the Hebrew Theatre.
Abraham Goldfaden died on January 9, 1908 and tens of thousands of mourners accompanied him on his final journey. The original Theatre he created filled the community's needs and impacted the artistic development of the Jewish and Hebrew Theatres as they came into being. Many of his plays continue to be produced in Israel and in Jewish Theatres throughout the world.
Ph.D. student – Department of Theatre Arts
Tel Aviv University