1884 – 1964
As an actor on the Yiddish stage, Glika (Degenshteyn) Bilavsky participated early on in the renaissance of secular Yiddish culture in the twentieth century.
Bilavsky was born on January 23, 1884 (or on May 6, 1891, according to one source) into a prosperous family engaged in agricultural trade. She was a niece of Nahum Sokolow, the Zionist leader and Hebrew writer. She did not receive a traditional Jewish education, but attended a public elementary school in her hometown of Glechine, Congress Poland, and continued her education at a middle school (pro-gimnaziia) in Warsaw.
In 1907, Glika fled Poland with her fiancé, Morris Bilavsky, a fellow Yiddish actor and member of the illegal Bund (General Jewish Workers’ Union in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia). The two married and settled in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they established an amateur Yiddish theater group that later turned professional. Bilavsky also studied drama and debuted both on the Danish stage and in the Danish cinema in 1920. During their fifteen-year residence in Copenhagen, the couple traveled frequently to Sweden and Norway to appear in Yiddish productions.
In 1921, Bilavsky and her husband immigrated to New York City. Over the following four decades, Bilavsky played occasionally on the Yiddish stage, lectured, and was active in Hadassah, United Jewish Appeal, and the women’s auxiliary of Mizrahi, as an organizer of its Yiddish-speaking branches. Glika Bilavsky died on April 4, 1964, in New York City.
AJYB 66: 572; Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater, s.v. “Glika Bilavksy,” and “Moris Bilavsky”; Lifson, David. The Yiddish Theater in America (1965); Obituary. Forverts (April 6, 1964); Sandrow, Nahma. Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater (1977).