July 24: Abraham Goldfaden, the “father of modern Yiddish theater,” was born in Russia

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Abraham Goldfaden, the “father of modern Yiddish theater,” was born in Russia (today’s Ukraine) on this date in 1840. Goldfaden was a poet in Hebrew and Yiddish, many of whose poems were set to music and became popular songs. In 1876 he built upon his popularity to launch the world’s first professional Yiddish theater troupe in Iasi, Romania (he himself built the stage and sets, wrote the piece, composed the music, and directed the actors). Goldfaden wrote some 40 Yiddish plays between 1869 and 1908 as well as hundreds of songs, including, most famously, “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen” (Raisins and Almonds). His funeral procession in New York in 1908 was attended by more than 75,000 mourners, and the New York Times observed that “there is more evidence of genuine sympathy with and admiration for the man and his work” than for “any poet now writing in the English language in this country.”

“And when you become rich, Yidele,
Remind yourself of this lullaby.
Raisins and almonds.
This will be your calling.
You’ll be a merchant of all wares,
But for now, sleep, Yidele, sleep.”  —Abraham Goldfaden

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