December 2019

The Realization of a Dream

Daring To Dream

Avrom Goldfaden’s Di Kishefmakherin (The Sorceress) holds a special place both in history and in my heart. It is the first piece of Yiddish theater ever to be performed in the United States and also the first Yiddish operetta that I personally encountered when I began working at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Soon after my arrival, in the fall of 2003, NYTF presented a concert of the songs and a few short scenes from the show and I was instantly under the Sorceress’ spell.

Over the next 10 years, we reprised that scaled-down concert version a few times and each time I fantasized how exciting a fully realized production might be. For so many years it seemed out of reach for our struggling, little theater company, until we began our residency at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Our move to MJH doubled the size of our venue and opened an enormous door in terms of cast and orchestra size which is evidenced by the success of Di Goldene Kale (The Golden Bride) and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.

Once we were at the Museum, the sky was the limit and we launched the Global Restoration Initiative to breathe new life into the best and most historically significant works of the Yiddish theater and re-imagine them for today’s audiences. In our mind, the selection of The Sorceress to be the first fully restored operetta was a natural choice.

Picking Up The Pieces

Our journey began with the published Piano Vocal score, but there were still many missing parts.  As luck would have it, we were able to locate the libretto in the Steven Spielberg Digital Library at the Yiddish Book Center as well as orchestrations from over 100 years ago in the Vilna Collection of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

With these integral puzzle pieces in hand, Zalmen Mlotek (NYTF Artistic Director), Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch and I set about sorting through the material to shape a modern telling of this story.  The music was digitized note by note, the script transliterated and translated and after many months of this discovery process, we were ready to put what we have to the test.

Getting The Show On Its Feet

Our first concert version was in the fall of 2017 and was performed with a scaled-down orchestra.  The goal was to determine if the piece held together if the audience found it pleasing, and if so, what further adjustments would need to be made.

The following month we traveled to Bucharest, Romania for the 2nd International Yiddish Theatre festival hosted by the State Jewish Theater for a joint workshop.  This was an especially moving experience as Romania is the home of the Yiddish theater and also where The Sorceress debuted in 1877. Continuing work on this show in its birthplace really enhanced the process and added a lot to the finished product.

For one week, we rehearsed with a company featuring three actors from NYTF, fifteen actors from the Romanian Jewish theater and one actor from Strasbourg, France as well as an orchestra featuring both American and Romanian musicians.  By the end of the week, we presented our workshop to a packed house who instantly fell for the Sorceress’ charms.

The voyage continued in December of 2017 when we presented five sold-out workshop presentations with our own cast of NYTF actors, six of whom would go on to join the cast of the critically acclaimed and awarded Fiddler.  This time, we had a full orchestra, but the sets were limited to projected renderings of what the scenic design might look like, augmented by a few pieces of furniture, but along with colorful costumes, it painted the picture of the vibrant production that this classic operetta would become.

Again another hit! The audiences were thrilled, with 93% of those surveyed saying that they would like to see the production fully realized.

Realizing The Dream

And so here we are today, having built a new production of a 140-year-old work, based on the lessons we learned along the way. This is just the first of many plays, musicals and operettas which we will be bringing you in future seasons from our restoration project.  We can’t wait for you to see The Sorceress and we know that it will thrill you the same way that it thrilled audiences generations ago.

Opening Night Celebration

The Sorceress (Di Kishefmakherin) is the inaugural production of NYTF’s Global Restoration Initiative, whose mission is to rescue and restore the essential music, lyrics, and scripts of once “lost” works of Yiddish theatre. This historic operetta was the first Yiddish theatre performed in America, brought to our shores in 1882 by a 14-year-old Boris Thomashefsky.

The evening includes a dazzling production of  The Sorceress followed by an elegant dessert and champagne reception with the cast, creative team, and orchestra. Price: $250 per person. 

or call  212.213.2120 x230
for reservations and further information.

Enrich your theatre-going experience

DECEMBER 4, 2019 – Bryan Doerris, Theatre of War

Human trafficking, the separation of families, and other forms of oppression and violence.

On the surface, The Sorceress seems a light-hearted, harmless fairytale, but peel back a few layers with Theater of War Productions’ Artistic Director Bryan Doerries to discover that there is dark side to this musical that illustrates the horror of human trafficking in Romania during this time

December 12, 2019 – Alyssa Quint, YIVO

The Dangers of the City in Goldfaden’s The Sorceress: some historical notes.

Alyssa Quint is the author of The Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater recently published by Indiana UP.

December 18, 2019 – Nahma Sandrow, YIVO

The Lively American Debut of Yiddish Theater.

After the final curtain, while you’re still humming the tunes, there will be a lot to talk about. After all, The Witch was one of the first Yiddish plays ever written, the first professional Yiddish show in America, Boris Tomashevky’s debut vehicle as a boy soprano, and a favorite at the box office for over a century. 

NYTF Radio

Get excited for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of The Sorceress, by subscribing to our brand new podcast: NYTF Radio.  NYTF Radio, hosted by Toney Brown, serves to educate listeners on the history of Yiddish Theatre and Jewish performative culture. 

The first season which debuted on Wednesday, November 20th will consist of four episodes exploring the early history of Yiddish Theatrical Performance in Europe and the United States. From Purim spiels to Avrom Goldfaden and The Sorceress, to late 19th Century Yiddish Theatre in America. Featured guests include Professor Joel Berkowitz of University Wisconsin Milwaukee (Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage), author Nahma Sandrow (Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theatre), Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek, Actor Mikhl Yashinsky, Associate Artistic Director Motl Didner, and longtime company member Itzy Firestone.

Be sure to subscribe, tune in, rate, and comment!

Digital Exhibit

Leaders of the New York–based YIVO examine the crates of books and documents that had been packed in Vilna by the Paper Brigade and sent to Germany by the Nazis.
YIVO Archives

Would you risk your life for a book?

A group of poets and scholars living under Nazi rule in the Vilna Ghetto did. Under the most harrowing conditions, they saved numerous cultural treasures from the Nazis, among them parts of the score of this show, Di kishefmakherin, or The Sorceress.


Auschwitz Remembered:
An NYC-ARTS Special

Now available to view online, Paula Zahn hosts a special, one-hour edition of “NYC-ARTS”, THIRTEEN’s weekly arts and culture showcase, that explores the importance and timeliness of Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

The one-hour special features interviews with Bruce Ratner, Chairman of the Board of The Museum of Jewish Heritage; Ronald S. Lauder, Founder and Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee and President of the World Jewish Congress; and members of the community of Holocaust survivors.

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, bringing together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. In response to demand, the exhibition’s run was recently extended to August 2020. For more information and tickets, visit

You don’t need to be fluent in Yiddish to get the mood of what’s being said. It is the most animated language there is!”

Each month, Ellen will take us on a journey back in time to a shtetl far, far away where we will explore the origins and meanings of both well-known and little-known Yiddish sayings. Here is the first one, enjoy!

Az me muz, ken men
When one must, one can

Chanukah will be celebrated this year on December 22nd this year.
Chanukah is considered to be a Happy Jewish Holiday. When we are young Chanukah can represent 8 days of gifts and gelt! (sometimes real money and sometimes in the form of a gold chocolate coin!)

It can represent an obelisk-shaped toy that spins around, the dreidel… and lighting a colorful Menorah.

But Chanukah to me represents the “ Miracle of Chanukah”  when only one day of oil was left … yet the Light burnt for 8 days!

The tenacity of the Jewish people has always been to guard, protect, and keep our faith under any circumstances even when perhaps the difficulties seemed insurmountable. The Jewish people have kept the traditions and joy alive for our religion for many ages… and will continue to do so for many more, despite the challenges which are faced by our people.

Is that not Miraculous?

Ellen B. Eisen is an International Business Woman and TV Personality. But, her love for the Arts and especially Mamaloshen brings her to join our Folksbienne Newsletter.

Ellen is associated with many theatre companies and film festivals in both New York and Palm Beach County, Florida. As she always says, “You love YIDDISH the moment you hear if, the language has such soul and rhythm.

Join The Tradition!

Everything’s better in the Mamme Loshen.
Thank you National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. 
Jackie Hoffman