The national poet Mihai Eminescu, back then a journalist at the “Jassy Courier”, attended, on the 19th of August, four plays in Yiddish of which he wrote that they weren’t of much dramatic interest, but the actors’ play was excellent. This review represents the birth certificate of the first professional Yiddish theatre in the world.
The founder of this theatre is Avram (Abraham) Goldfaden, poet, writer and playwright from Ukraine, who arrived in Iași to start a gazette. The legend says that the wife of a friend told him that there was already an Yiddish gazette in Bucharest, whose editor “starves” due to very little success. She also gave him the idea to establish an authentic Yiddish theatre, based on his own writings. Initially, Avram Goldfaden presented his poems in a summer garden, where comedians and interpreters used to come. Israel Grodner from Lithuania, who sang lyrics written by Goldfaden, met with the poet and became afterwards the first actor of the Yiddish Theatre of Iași. Sokher Goldstein was next, the three playing eight roles in total. The band moved in October 1876 in the new “Green Tree” Garden, across the street from the current National Theatre.
At the end of autumn, Goldfaden tried to rent a place, in order to also play theatre inside. The successive denials made them go on tour to Botoșani, Galați, Brăila, and then to Bucharest, where they settled for two years. Although he didn’t manage to persuade the actors to remain after they became famous, Goldfaden’s band worked as a nursery for the worldwide stage of the Yiddish theatre. In 1878, Joseph Lateiner, born in Iași, became the new playwright of the “Green Tree” theatre, but he also emigrated to the USA, where, in 1902, be founded “The Grand Theatre” New York, the first construction especially built as a Yiddish theatre. Goldfaden went on tours in Eastern Europe, Paris and New York, returning to Iași in 1895. After a few years he immigrated to America, where he also composed plays in Hebrew, along with those written in Yiddish, thus becoming the father of the Hebrew theatre as well. In 1908, The New York Times wrote that over 75.000 people took part at the funerary ceremonies of the “Shakespeare of the Jews”.
The “Green Tree” Garden was destroyed by a fire, rebuilt in 1911 by the director of a new Jewish theatre band and was then closed during the Second World War. Afterwards it worked sporadically, along with two other Jewish theatres in the city. In 1956, it received the name of Avram Goldfaden, but in 1971 the city decided the demolition of the entire area, in order to create the National Theatre Park. In the memory of this cultural initiative which began in Iași, on the place of the former summer garden, a monument was placed. Also, on the right side of the National Theatre, the bust of the great Avram Goldfaden was placed.
Jewish actors with connections to Iași
Molly Picon (1898-1992), an American theatre actress, played in Yiddish in Iași in the plays “Hapsasa” and “A moyd mit sekhel” (1922) and took her picture in the shop of the Jewish photographer Zaharia Weiss. Liliana Gold, mother of the famous actor Dustin Hoffman (1937- ), was born in Iași. The actor wanted the screening of the story of the mayor Traian Popovici from Cernăuți, who saved over 20.000 Jews. Humphrey Bogart’s wife, the diva Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), was the daughter of Natalia Weinstein, born in Iași in 1901 and cousin of the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. The actress Roxana Condurache from Iași recently starred in the film about the love story of the famous Hollywood couple – “Bogie and Bacall”.