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News Release

Grand Dame Of Yiddish Theatre Takes Final Bow
Dora Wasserman C.M., C.Q.
Dies at 84

December 15, 2003

Montreal, December 15, 2003 – The beloved Founding Artistic Director of The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, Dora Wasserman C.M., C.Q, passed away on December 15, 2003 but her legacy endures through the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre.

Born in Chernikhov, Ukraine, Dora Goldfarb was invited to study voice at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Moscow but soon transferred to the Moscow Yiddish Art Theatre (GOSET), where she studied drama under the legendary Russian actor and director, Solomon Mikhoels. By the outbreak of WW II, Dora was acting in the Ukraine State Theatre. She fled to Kazakhstan and earned her way by performing with the State Theatre in the Kazakh language. There she met and married her husband, Sam (Shura) Wasserman. Post-war, Dora ended up in the Displaced Persons Camps of Austria, where she entertained to lift the morale of the survivors.

Arriving in Canada in 1950, with her husband and daughters, Ella and Bryna, Dora began teaching drama to children at the Jewish Public Library, the Abraham Reisen School and the Jewish Peoples School. Her charisma and leadership inspired her students who eventually became the backbone of her theatre She then founded an adult ensemble called the Yiddish Drama Group. She turned to Gratien Gélinas of the Comédie canadienne for help with her first productions. Eleven years later, in 1967, this troupe was established as The Yiddish Theatre, the resident company of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. It is now the only resident Yiddish theatre in North America.

For close to 40 years, Dora selected and directed over 70 plays, including Yiddish classics as well as plays from the international and Quebec repertoire in translation. Great proportions of her plays were original works. It was the only theatre authorized to stage the works of Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Its production of Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs is considered the best interpretation of this play in a language other than French. For her 70th birthday she wrote and performed and sang in a solo show entitled Just Dora.

For almost 50 years, this Grande Dame of Montreal Theatre has continued to work with children and teens, inspiring them, teaching the value of heritage and training them in acting and improvisation. Dora’s “Young Actors for Young Audiences” (YAYA) program remains an invaluable part of the Yiddish Theatre.. Dora always developed and encouraged emerging artists, many of whom have gone on to major theatre careers.

It was Dora Wasserman’s vision and courage that gave a voice to Yiddish theatre, which has emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust to thrive once again as a vibrant cultural force. She has transferred her love for Yiddish theatre to new generations of actors and audiences. Her contribution to the preservation and strengthening of Yiddish culture has been recognized by many prestigious awards.

She was honoured by many organisations and won numerous awards, including I.J. Segal Award, the Concert Society of Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools Award, the Allied Jewish Community Services Award, the Order of Canada in 1992, the Prix Hommage in 1998, a Masque Award for lifetime achievement from her peers at the Académie Québécoise du Théâtre and, this past October, the Order Of Quebec. For her dedication, guiding vision, creativity and tireless work, the SBC announced at its 2002 Gala that the theatre Dora founded and nurtured would be renamed the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre

Dora transferred her love for Yiddish theatre to thousands of people, to new generations of actors and audiences, to young and old, and to people of all backgrounds and cultures.

Her husband Sam, her stalwart supporter predeceased her by three weeks. They are also survived by 8 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren, many of them residing in Israel.

That her daughter, Bryna Wasserman, has taken over the helm of her Theatre was the realization of Dora’s dream of continuing Yiddish Theatre into the future.