NYTF Newsletter

March 2020

The Tenth Man

Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874–1925) – Book of Job, appearing in Die Bucher Der Bibel

Modern Judaism & The Folklore Of Dibbuks

By Giacinta Pace

A Dybbuk possession plays a large part in our upcoming production of The Tenth Man by Paddy Chayefsky. Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, from The Hamptons Synagogue was kind enough to give us an interview regarding his thoughts on dybbuks and some background info on the topic. 

In your own words, what is a dybbuk?
In Jewish literature and folklore, a dybbuk is a malicious spirit, usually that of a deceased person, that possesses a living person. The word itself, first used in 18th century Eastern Europe, derives from the root d.v.q., which means to “attach” or “cleave” (in modern Hebrew, “devek” is “glue”.) In Hasidic thought, achieving a state of deveikut, or attachment to the Divine, is one of the aims of religious life. A dybbuk represents the opposite.

The idea became popularized in the Kabbalistic writings of the 15th and 16th centuries, especially those that dealt with gilgulim (reincarnations). In those writings, a dybbuk is a soul that, for whatever reason, found itself stranded on earth after death, in need of a Tikkun, some rectification of an outstanding loose end that would allow it to move on to its next destination.

What symptoms are unique to a dybbuk possession?
A person possessed by a dybbuk might lose control of their body, falling to the ground in convulsions, weeping, or shouting. Sometimes they would act rebelliously, refusing to participate in normal communal or congregational life. Famously, many possessions featured the demon speaking through the host body – in a strange voice, and even describing faraway events or community secrets that the host themself could not have known.

How does Judaism today see the idea of a dybbuk?  Have you ever seen or heard of a real-life exorcism? If so, tell us about it. If not, why do you think you haven’t?

Famously, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe (d. 1979), was once consulted about a possible dybbuk possession – he recommended a psychiatrist. Even within the Orthodox world, my sense is that, though belief in dybbuks in principle may linger, almost anyone would treat the symptoms a dybbuk would present in terms of mental health. That said, In a 2014 article, Asher Elbein (https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/186534/exorcising-dybbuks) collected several contemporary news reports of exorcisms, all within Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Sefardic community, which in many ways, overtly mimics the mannerisms of the Ashkenazi Haredi community. Thus, the tradition that became the Dybbuk originated in the pre-Modern Sefardic community and took its final shape in the shtetl. So, in a way, it has come home – though with a contemporary, digital spin. As Elbin records, one of those recent exorcisms took place over Skype, with video distributed (and disputed) online!

What does an exorcism ceremony consist of?
The core of the ceremony itself is essentially a negotiation in which the exorcist addresses the spirit directly, demanding that it leave its host and the spirit stating its reasons for remaining. Often, the ceremony would take place at the synagogue in the presence of a minyan of ten men dressed in their white yom kippur robes (that doubled as burial shrouds!), who had prepared with a regimen of purification that included fasting and ritual immersion. Incantations, including kabbalistic combinations of Divine names were invoked, the shofar was sounded, and the Ark was opened, revealing the torah scrolls inside – everything creating both a heightened atmosphere of tension and danger, as well as holiness that the spirit could not tolerate. In the end, the spirit would be forced to leave the host, preferably through a toe, and restricted from further nefarious activity.

If we hear of any possessions, who are we gonna call?
A reputable mental health professional. (Though, if you are convinced that the situation is more supernatural, Rabbi Dovid Batzri, head of the Hashalom Yeshiva in Israel, is the only living person today who claims to have successfully exorcised a Dybbuk. 

Join the Tradition!

“Everything is better in the mamaloshen.
Thank you National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.”


– Jackie Hoffman

The Tenth Man

Meredith Hoddeson, Assistant Company Manager; Motl Didner, Associate Artistic Director; Jamibeth Margolis, Casting Director; Eleanor Reissa, Director.
Photo By: Dylan Seders Hoffman

Eleanor Reissa, Director with Dylan Seders Hoffman.
Photo By: By Meredith Hoddeson

Finding The 10th Man And The Other 9 Too!

Lots of casting happening in Australia over the past few weeks (see our photo spread below), but we have some auditions of our own going on right here in The Big Apple!

The creative team for The Tenth Man is working hard scouting out scores of hopefuls this week.

From our Award-winning Casting Director, Jamibeth Margolis CSA, “We are seeing a lot of great talent. Actors are really working hard on the Yiddish.”

Stayed tuned to see who makes the cut! 

Fiddler on the Roof

Photos by: Jim Lee Photo, Merete Muenter & Zalmen Mlotek

Postcards From Oz A Fiddler Down Under, Meshuge, neyn?

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is on the move again. It started out as the little musical that could and in two years has gone from its humble beginnings at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust to Off-Broadway in midtown Manhattan and now most recently to International waters in Australia. We are very proud of this show and can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Take an exclusive sneak peek at some photos from the auditions in Australia and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to continue the journey.

Fiddler on the Roof

Host: Toney Brown

Against the odds

In this episode of our podcast, NYTF Radio, we continue explore the oral history of the Folksbiene with longtime company member Itzy Firestone. We learn about the Folksbiene in the 1980s as the company navigates a difficult question: “How do we preserve Yiddish theatre in a world with fewer and fewer fluent Yiddish speakers?”

From Our Friends at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

Yiddish Glory, Psoy Korolenko (Center), photo by Roman Boldyrev

Yiddish Glory: 
The Lost Songs of WWII

Monday, March 30 and Tuesday, March 31  |  7 PM

This Grammy-nominated concert shines a spotlight on the everyday lives of Soviet Jews during World War II – civilians and soldiers of all ages whose voices were silenced by Hitler and Stalin. The songs, originally by amateur authors, were collected by legendary ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovsky and thought lost following his arrest during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. Decades later, the songs were discovered in a collection of unmarked boxes in Ukraine and revived by a team of dedicated artists and scholars determined to raise awareness of this lost chapter of history. Premiering for the first time in New York, this internationally acclaimed concert features the preeminent Russian Roma trio Loyko, singer-songwriter Psoy Korolenko, and narration by Yiddish scholar and project visionary Anna Shternshis, with captions in English, Yiddish, and Russian.

The March 31 performance will include a post-show conversation with the performers moderated by journalist Budd Mishkin.

Performances will be in Edmond J. Safra Hall 
at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,
36 Battery Place in Lower Manhattan.

From our friends at The Workers Circle

Yiddish conversation class

Learn how to speak Yiddish from one of the amazing instructors who taught the Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish cast, our very own, Motl Didner! Take this class from The Workers Circle and maybe next time you come to see one of our shows, you won’t need the subtitles as much!

Beginners I conversation with Motl Didner (5 sessions)
Mondays 1:00 – 2:30 pm: March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Course Goals: Build skills in speaking and listening comprehension to become conversational in Yiddish.

Course Tools: Practice conversing with fellow students using new vocabulary and cultural concepts.

Additional Info: Previous knowledge of the Alef-Beys is not required.

From our friends at 59E59

Finding love next door

Angie Mastrantoni has a lot going for her: a job at a hip art gallery, a new apartment on the Upper West Side, but not much time or hope for relationships. Then her neighbor Seth, a divorced Orthodox Jew with a knish store on the Lower East Side, knocks on her door.

A brand new romantic written by Cary Gitter and directed by Joe Brancato, The Sabbath Girl explores the loneliness of big-city life and the possibility of finding love next door

Let's Dish in Yiddish

Each month, Ellen Eisen 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.

Nit a’le tog iz purem

(Not every day is Purim Let’s Party!)

Purim is celebrated March 9-March 10.

Purim is a jolly and very fun holiday for all of the family…The girls dress up like Queen Esther….and children parade around with noisemakers , costumes and masks! When I was young….my Dad would proudly Parade me around the Synagogue all dressed up like Queen Esther and everyone would say such a “Shayna Punim” and he would KVELL!!

For adults we are encouraged to drink lots of wine on Purim to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish People from a Villainous Haman.

It’s not often we get a hall pass to have so much fun….to really drink in excess and just really enjoy ourselves unconditionally!
But on Purim it is nearly mandatory!

The ‘real’ world of today can wait til tomorrow!

So enjoy Purim, the dancing, the Hamantaschen and the whole Megillah!