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Yiddish actress Sara Adler honored for 50 years on the stage

March 14, 1939

Born in Odessa in 1858, Sara Adler became an actress who helped to change the face of Yiddish theatre in America. Although she made her stage debut at age eight, she initially studied voice at the Odessa Conservatory and appeared as a between-acts singer for the Jewish Theater Circle. Deciding on a theater career, she learned Yiddish and joined a Yiddish theater troupe. A Russian ban on Yiddish theater prompted the troupe to move to London, and then to America in 1883.

In the U.S., Adler became the leading actress in a Yiddish theatre troupe. The group's manager, actor Jacob Adler, became her second husband in 1891. At the time, Yiddish theater was dominated by vaudeville acts and melodrama. Jacob Adler changed that when he staged a Jacob Gordin drama called Siberia in 1891. This performance is considered the beginning of serious Yiddish theater. Adler went on to stage Der Yidisher Kenig Lear [The Jewish King Lear], in which Sara Adler played the role of Teitele for over 30 years.

Over the next three decades, Sara Adler created many of the most important women's roles in Yiddish theater, winning great public acclaim. The Adlers were able to achieve financial success in New York. Over these decades, Adler also gave birth to five children, all of whom went on to successful theater careers of their own. Her daughter Stella became a noted actress, director, and teacher of acting. Sara Adler continued to perform actively until 1928, and then occasionally appeared until she turned 80. Her 50 years of work on the stage were celebrated in a gala event at the National Theater on March 14, 1939, during which she performed the third act of Tolstoy's Resurrection. Adler died in New York on April 28, 1953.

To learn more about Sara Adler, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Yiddish Theater in the United States.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 18-19; New York Times, March 14, 1939.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Yiddish actress Sara Adler honored for 50 years on the stage." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/14/1939/sara-adler>.