Top 5 Reasons to See the first Yiddish Musical ever produced in America

1. Yiddish Theatre came to America with The Sorceress

The Sorceress was the first Yiddish theatre production in the United States, establishing Second Avenue in the “Jewish” Lower East Side (now the East Village) as the Yiddish Theater District. In the subsequent three decades, New York would see the establishment of over a dozen Yiddish theatres and the founding of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine which—now in its 105th season—is the oldest consecutively producing theatre company in the country. The influence of Yiddish theatre on today’s performing artists is undeniable, and today’s theatergoers are embracing the roots of modern-day theatre—with translation assistance, of course. This is evidenced in the popularity of NYTF’s production of Fiddler on the Roof (A Fidler Afn Dakh) which plays to sold-out theaters and has won multiple awards. 

Yivo Collection. After WWII

2. You’ve heard of the Monuments Men, now meet the YIVO Scholars.

While most clandestine work in the Vilna ghetto likely centered around smuggling food for survival and valuables for bribes, a group of YIVO Vilna scholars and others risked their lives secreting priceless cultural gems—music, rare books, manuscripts, and plays—into milk jugs and under floorboards and other hideaways. This was perilous work, and those who took it on knew their survival was unlikely; but they were hopeful the Nazis would lose the war and there would be a time when Jewish life would return. The Sorceress, written in 1878 by Avram Goldfaden, is one of the very earliest works of Yiddish theatre; and the fully restored orchestrations are based, in part, on pre-Holocaust musical arrangements which were saved from destruction at the hands of the Nazis by the YIVO Scholars. This fully-staged work is the culmination of a project which NYTF began in 2017 to restore this classic. NYTF’s Global Restoration Initiative identifies the best examples of Yiddish operettas, musicals, and plays; reassembles librettos and scores in a digital format (rendering them useable to artists and scholars), and presents the work to audiences often for the first time in a half-century or more. The Sorceress is fulfilling the Folksbiene’s dream of rescuing and restoring the essential works of the Yiddish theatre.

Courtesy of NYPL in public domain

3. Chutzpah!

In 1882, 14-year-old Boris Thomashefsky, who had only recently immigrated to the United States, was working in a cigarette factory where he enjoyed his co-workers singing tunes from Yiddish theatre, including The Sorceress. Though he had never seen Yiddish theatre in his native Ukraine, he loved the tunes so much that he convinced a Bowery beer hall owner to finance his production of The Sorceress. The partner paid for a Yiddish theatre troupe from London to travel to New York for the production. On opening night, Thomashefsky learned that the woman who was to play one of the female lead – Mirele – was no longer available due to dubious circumstances. Thomashefsky reportedly performed the role in drag. And the role of the Sorceress traditionally has been played by a man—a dream role for some of the greatest leading men of their time including Maurice Schwartz and Benjamin Zuskin of the State Jewish Theater in Moscow.

Mikhl Yashinsky as Bobe Yahkne

4. Mikhl Yashinsky stars as the Sorceress, taking leave from his role in the Yiddish-language Fiddler on the Roof currently playing in midtown.

Yashinsky first played the role of the Sorceress (Bobe Yakhne) when NYTF staged a lauded reading in 2017. Yashinsky describes the musical: It is melodramatic, operatic, romantic, exotic, fantastic entertainment such as would have delighted the Jews of Eastern Europe at its premiere in 1877 and still delivers its distinct charms to anyone, anywhere today, while still reeking wonderfully (and somehow refreshingly!) of its strange nineteenth-century perfume. There are scenes set in the lair where the witch does her divining, at a sixteen year-old’s birthday party in a beautiful garden, at a coffeehouse in Istanbul. It is nothing like a piece of musical theatre that would get written today, and thank God — and Goldfaden (the playwright) — for that!

The Sorceress. Left to Right: Pat Constant, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Michael Yashinsky, Steve Sterner, Rachel Botchan

5. Will Good trump Evil?

On the surface,The Sorceress is a fairy tale. But as a metaphor, it is about the avarice-fueled oppression of innocents using the tools of family separation, human trafficking, and violence. The metaphor still works today as it did when it was written—in Romania during the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. NYTF presents theatre that transcends language and time. The Sorceress is part of NYTF’s season of “Spiritual Resistance,” which features artistic and theatrical works that explore themes of struggle against oppression. The programming provides artistic expression concurrent with the exhibition Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. being presented at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

The Sorceress – YIVO 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

Rescuing Culture: How Jewish Treasures Were Saved from the Nazis

This December, before each performance of ‘The Sorceress’, don’t forget to look for our special YIVO-curated digital gallery in the lobby of the Museum Of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

The Sorceress – Post Show Discussions

Enrich your “The Sorceress” theatre-going experience with these post-show discussions

DECEMBER 4, 2019

Brian Doerris, Theatre of War

Brian 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.

Click to Buy Tix to December 4

December 12, 2019

Alyssa Quint, YIVO

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. 

Click to Buy Tix to December 12

December 18, 2019

Nahma Sandrow, YIVO

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. 

Click to Buy Tickets to December 18

The Sorceress – Special Event

Combine the perfect match! Kosher Chinese food from Park & Madison Caterers with Fun-filled Yiddish Entertainment ‘The Sorceress Musical’ into one unique day to remember. 

And who doesn’t love a pastrami egg roll?

Show + Buffet Dinner Package goes on sale Nov.15!

NYTF Announcement

NYTF Welcomes a New Executive Director

Dominick Balletta  joined the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene as Executive Director on Nov. 1. He comes to NYTF from the  Jacob Burns Film Center . He produces for theater and film. Film credits:  Another Telepathic Thing, I’m Carolyn Parker , (Jonathan Demme, Dir.),  Deconstructing The Beatles . He received a 2009 Tony Award nomination as a producer of Moisés Kaufman’s  33 Variations  starring Jane Fonda.  He is an Advisor to the DeVos Institute of Arts Management.

Special Collaboration

The Investigation

This fall and winter the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene will be partnering on two exciting projects with  Theater of War Productions , a New York-based social impact company that works with leading film, theater, and television actors to present dramatic readings of seminal plays followed by community-driven discussions about pressing public health and social issues. For more than ten years, Theater of War Productions has engaged diverse audiences all over the world in powerful, healing dialogue about challenging subjects, such as trauma, racism, addiction, domestic violence, and police/community relations. 

On November 13th and 14th , in collaboration with the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, we will premiere  The Investigation at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn , presenting scenes from Peter Weiss’ play  The Investigation , a piece of searing documentary theater adapted from the Frankfurt Auschwitz War Crimes Trials of 1963-1965, as a catalyst for guided discussions about mass murder and its lasting impact upon individuals, families, communities, and countries throughout the world. The November performances will feature a cast of acclaimed actors including: David Zayas (Dexter), Amy Ryan (Birdman), Brian F. O’Byrne (Doubt), Zach Grenier (The Good Wife), and John Doman (The Wire), among others, including several survivors of genocide who will take part in the reading. Reserve free seats

The Investigation  will also be presented at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on January 16th as part of its International Holocaust Remembrance programming and in conjunction with the exhibition  Auschwitz: Not Long ago. Not Far Away. Reserve free seats.

The Investigation is made possible by the generous support of Bruce Ratner.

Museum of Jewish Heritage- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

Kristallnacht Commeration Events

To mark the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht , the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust offers a series of commemorative events and programs.

Kristallnacht refers to the anniversary of a series of mob attacks organized by the Nazi Party against Jews on November 9 and 10, 1938 throughout Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia occupied by German troops. This came to be called Kristallnacht , or The Night of Broken Glass because of the shattered glass that littered streets after the destruction and vandalism of Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, and homes as well as cemeteries.

Around 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and at least 91 Jews were murdered. Approximately 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.

On Sunday, November 10, the Museum will have extended hours – open 10 AM to 9 PM – and will provide a public candle-lighting area in the Anne & Bernard Spitzer Grand Foyer and free admission to MJH Highlights – Ordinary Treasures: Highlights from the Museum of Jewish Heritage Collection , The Pickman Keeping History Center, and Andy Goldsworthy’s contemplative Garden of Stones.

Entry to the acclaimed exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. requires a separate, paid ticket.  Reserve your tickets in advance.

In addition, there will be two free programs:1 PM  Stories Survive Speaker Series: Eugene Polinsky , who during World War II flew secret missions to drop spies and supplies to support the resistance in occupied countries. Reserve >

2 PM  Dr. Yaffa Eliach Third Annual Memorial Lecture: “The World of Auschwitz” with Distinguished Research Scholar Debórah Dwork . Reserve >

Commemorative free programs continue on Monday, November 11:2 PM  Stories Survive: An Eyewitness Account of Kristallnacht with Ruth Zimbler . When she was 10 years old, Ruth and her brother Walter watched from their apartment as the largest synagogue in Vienna was destroyed. Reserve >

7 PM   Kristallnacht History & Significance. Professor Natalia Aleksiun will discuss the history leading up to Kristallnacht , and the impact of Kristallnacht on the religious, economic, and social dynamics of Jews within Germany and Nazi-occupied territory. Reserve >

From our friends- JCC Manhattan

JCC Manhattan 
Mon, Nov 4, 7–8:30 pm
Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal — Discussion with Elizabeth and Alexandra Bellak

As we prepare to mark the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht , join us for a discussion about Renia’s Diary , the long-hidden journal of a young Polish woman’s life during the Holocaust. We will be joined by Elizabeth Bellak , Renia’s sister, and Elizabeth’s daughter, Alexandra Bellak , who will share how they worked together to preserve and share Renia’s story with the world for the first time. Copies of Renia’s Diary will be available for purchase after the Q+A.

Click to Read More

From our friends – TIKVAH

Free online course

Don’t miss the incredible opportunity to study the magnificent stories that inspired  Fiddler on the Roof  with the best teacher in the business – Harvard Professor, Ruth Wisse.

Tikvah’s 8-part online course on the Tevye stories is a true tour de force, exploring everything from assimilation and anti-Semitism to the threat of revolutionary socialism and the meaning of faith. And when you’ve finished it, you’ll understand why Sholem Aleichem’s original stories are even richer than their musical adaptation.

Click to Read More

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. 

Purchase before Nov. 11 at 5:00 pm and receive a pair of seats for $400.


or call  212.213.2120 x230
for reservations and further information.

Join The Tradition!

Everything’s better in the Mamme Loshen.

Thank you National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine. 

Jackie Hoffman