by Chava Rosenfarb
The Bird of the Ghetto chronicles the attempted Vilna Ghetto uprising and the tragic story of Jewish resistance leader Itsik Vitenberg, commander of the United Partisan Organization (FPO). The presentation coincides with the 78th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943.
In July 1943, the Nazi occupiers of the Vilna Ghetto demanded that leader Itsik Vitenberg be turned over. Yakov Gens, the head of the Vilna Jewish Council (Judenrat), turned Vitenberg over to the Gestapo, but he was rescued by his fellow partisans. The Gestapo again demanded that Vitenberg be turned over, threatening the complete liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto and its remaining 20,000 inhabitants.
The FPO wanted the crisis to serve as the spark to ignite an uprising, but without the popular support of the community, Vitenberg was forced to sacrifice himself, and he surrendered to the Nazis. He died within days in Gestapo custody. The Vilna Ghetto was liquidated three months later.
Rachel Botchan; Rebecca Brudner; Spencer Chandler; Motl Didner; Kirk Geritano; Avi Hoffman; Maya Jacobson; Daniel Kahn; Lea Kalisch; Rebecca Keren; Avram Mlotek; Lauren Schaffel; Dylan Seders Hoffman; Tatiana Wechsler; Hy Wolfe; and, Mikhl Yashinsky
The creative team includes Goldie Morgentaler, translator; Motl Didner, producer and videographer; Suzanne Toren, director; Dylan Seders Hoffman, assistant director; and Eileen F. Haggerty, production stage Manager/stage directions.
About the Playwright
The Bird of the Ghetto is the only play by Chava Rosenfarb, who is considered one of the greatest post-war Yiddish writers. While performed in Rosenbarb’s lifetime in English and in Hebrew, this is the first time this play will ever have been performed in the language in which it was written, Yiddish.
Born in Lodz, Rosenfarb began writing at age eight. In the Lodz ghetto, her poetry brought her to the attention of Simkha-Bunim Shayevitsh, author of the epic poem “Lekh Lekho,” who became her mentor and introduced her to the writers’ group in the ghetto. Upon liquidation of the ghetto (August 1944), Rosenfarb was deported to Auschwitz, and then to Sasel and finally Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated. In 1950, she immigrated to Montreal. Her literary output after 1947 was prodigious, including the epic, three-volume The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto.
The Bird of the Ghetto is the inaugural production in NYTF’s Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival, a series celebrating the Yiddish works of women writers. Following The Bird of the Ghetto, the festival will feature readings of plays by Kadye Malodowsky, Marie Lerner, and Miriam Karpilove. The series is curated by NYTF Literary Manager Sabina Brukner.
For our interview, we’re talking with NYTF Literary Manager Sabina Brukner. We will learn about the start of NTYF’s Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival, The Bird of the Ghetto, her life and upbringing in Yiddish culture, and of course, we chat about the great Chava Rosenfarb, one of the greatest post-war Yiddish Writers.
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene would like to express gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: Actors’ Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear on this program.
The Bird Of The Ghetto is a benefit for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene through permission from Theatre Authority, Inc.
Excerpt from Bird of the Ghetto*
written by Chava Rosenfarb
translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler
directed by Dr. Meghan Brodie, Associate Professor of Theater at Ursinus College
cast (left to right):
Yacov Gens: Evan Chartock
Jonah: Ben Little
Isaac Wittenberg: Joey Nolan
Esther: Kate Isabel Foley
Narrator/Stage Directions: Annie Zulick
*This performance was a part of the 2022 Yom HaShoah program, “Women, Theatre, and the Holocaust,” produced by Remember the Women Institute in partnership with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, and National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.
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