It's a miracle of sorts that Yiddish Theatre is still being performed more than 60 years since it nearly met its demise in the Holocaust. And the fact that this article is being written from Dresden, Germany makes this notion all the more apparent.
I'm on tour in Europe with The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) where, at the time of writing, the company had just completed a performance of Those Were The Days, a musical revue that pays tribute to Yiddish Theatre through comedy, song and dance.
If I tell you that the company enjoyed a warm ovation following tonight's performance, that would be an understatement.
One of the pillars of The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre's mandate has been touring. There is a connection made with people through the medium of live theatre that is unparalleled. And when Jewish culture is expressed by way of Yiddish Theatre, as Dora intended, connections are made with audiences both Jewish and non-Jewish that cannot otherwise be created.
In Dresden as part of the 10th annual week of Jewish music and theatre, the company presented two performances of Those Were The Days. The first was given early in the morning on the day following our arrival and it was for an audience of students. For anyone who's ever travelled a long distance, you know jet lag isn't the easiest thing to overcome, let alone having to be ready to perform first thing in the morning the day after arrival. But it's amazing what the human body can manage to muster when, quite literally, “the show must go on.”
Indeed, that is what made performing here so remarkable. These students were not Jewish. For them, their encounter with our troupe was their first opportunity to interact with Jews of any kind and to try and understand what was lost as a result of what happened in their country.
Describing my experience as a Jew performing Yiddish theatre in Germany for non-Jews is not easily put into words. However, there is a moment in Those Were The Days that resonated with me in quite a particular way that I'll share with you: One of the final musical numbers we perform in the play is called “Vu is Dos Gesele”. It's a Yiddish translation of a Russian folk song that in English goes something like this: 'Where is the house and where is the street, where is the little girl that I used to meet…the street is no longer, the house is now gone, the girl whom I loved has also now vanished.”
When the curtain came down at the end of our evening performance, again for a non-Jewish, but now mainly adult audience, the applause was deafening. Unlike any we ever receive at home in Montreal. And it went on, and on, confounding all of us backstage who weren't sure how to respond. It didn't subside until the grandchildren of those who perished came out on stage to accept flowers and adulation from the grandchildren of those who were here at the time. It might very well have been a tribute to the artistry of our production. But it more than likely had something to do with that Yiddish translation of a Russian folk song as well as the rest of the story that we told that quite likely resonated in ways we never could have imagined.
And so the Yiddish Theatre continues its European tour to Prague and Vienna, where I'll write to you from next week.
Part Two: These Are The Days
This article originally appeared in The Suburban newspaper.