Bertha Kalich

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Yiddish Theater in the United States

Women have always been important as both Yiddish theater audiences and actors. For a decade and more, most American Yiddish actors were immigrants, as were their audiences. Often families played in the same company, such as the famous Adler family. Now, as Yiddish theater has become attenuated, the loyalties and memories of women are important for its survival.

Yiddish Musical Theater in the United States

Jewish women on stage in America took on a variety of musical roles and performed all kinds of songs, including religious hymns and liturgical chants. In its heyday, the Yiddish stage mirrored American Jewish life. An amazing range of women’s woes were highlighted, discussed, and often resolved across the footlights, presenting the reality that immigrant women faced to an extent not paralleled in the English-language theatrical world during those years.

Theater in the United States

For over a hundred years, Jewish women have been involved in the American theater as writers, actors, directors, designers and producers. The vitality of the Yiddish theater, the splendor of Broadway, the rich tapestry of the regional theater, and everything in between, all owe a debt to the Jewish women who have given of their talents, their energy, their drive, and their dreams.

Bertha Kalich

Known for her majestic bearing, great beauty, and fine diction, Bertha Kalich was the first female actor to make the transition from the Yiddish to the English stage. Kalich performed 125 roles in seven languages and was a star of Yiddish theater in Europe before immigrating to the United States and rising to fame in American Yiddish theater and mainstream films, plays, and radio shows. 

Cantors: American Jewish Women

Women’s vocal leadership in synagogue music began with zogerin (women prayer leaders) in the women’s gallery. In the nineteenth century, women began participating in mixed choral and community singing, and some opera singers acted as cantors in important Reform congregations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Reform and Conservative movements began formally investing women as cantors, and today a plurality of cantors in liberal movements are women.

Celia Adler

Celia Adler’s popularity as a Yiddish actor made her a force in the Yiddish art theater movement, where she was loved for her ability to combine pathos and charm. In 1918, she joined Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater, and in 1919 she founded the Jewish Art Theater with several other actors. Her successful performance career lasted until her last film, Naked City, in 1948. 

Stella Adler

As an actress, director,  and teacher, Stella Adler transformed a generation of American actors. After achieving stardom in films and on stage, Adler traveled to Paris to  rethink the possibilities of Method acting with Stanislavsky. She transmitted the new acting techniques to her students and energized a generation of younger actors who shared her passion for the theater.

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