Yiddish Theatre Project


Historical Context

The current Jewish population in the United States is a result of several waves of immigration from countries with large Jewish populations, mostly in Eastern Europe. A large wave of Jewish immigration to the United States from German-speaking states occurred in the 1880s, and these immigrants, like their non-Jewish German counterparts, settled in many urban areas in the United States, including Pittsburgh. These first immigrants started many Jewish communal institutions in the city, including Pittsburgh’s first synagogue, Sha’are Shamayim. They also started the Concordia Club (which is now Pitt’s O’Hara Student Center), where one of the most important founding documents of progressive American Judaism, was authored at the Concordia Club.
Between 1880 and 1914, another, much larger wave of Jewish immigration from Europe took place. These immigrants were mostly from Eastern Europe, and they mostly settled in New York City. Some of them eventually left New York as there were greater economic opportunities in less-crowded cities. The Jewish immigrants who left New York settled in smaller, heavily industrialized urban centers like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Yiddish theater -- plays, musicals and operas performed in the Yiddish language -- were brought to the United States by the Eastern European wave of Jewish immigrants. Yiddish theater productions were first performed in New York City in the 1880s. Soon New York City, along with Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, were major centers of Yiddish theater. Migration out of New York brought Yiddish theater to Pittsburgh, and the Lando Theater was the Jewish community’s main source of Yiddish theater productions. The theater moved locations several times to accommodate the Jewish community’s moving to different suburbs in Pittsburgh, finally settling permanently in Squirrel Hill in the 1920s.

Project Overview

This project was initially an analysis of geographic and cultural shifts Yiddish theatre in southwestern Pennsylvania, mostly in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. However, a lack of knowledge with Yiddish, a complex and esoteric language, and a lack of accessible Yiddish resources coupled with the sudden withdrawal of a teammate who had initially proposed the project involving a heavy Yiddish component, we chose to change our project. Instead we focused on advertisements for any medium, regardless of language, even though we still indicated in our markup whether the ad contained Yiddish, in the “Jewish Criterion,” a prominent Jewish newspaper in Pittsburgh.
This project is local in scope, used a locally published Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Criterion, and relied heavily on , a digital resource. However, the conclusions can be applied to similar cases in other Jewish centers of the American diaspora. We, the group, see the Jewish diaspora as twofold for our purposes, the initial diaspora from Eastern Europe to New York, and then the American diaspora that was a migration from New York to smaller urban centers throughout the country. There were later diaspora migrations post- World War II for separate reasons, but for the purposes of this project, the aforementioned are the critical migratory movements. In our markup we coded for several different types of variables, while in our findings we focused on only a few of those variables and their ramifications. With our data, we were able to come upon certain findings and conclusions that are featured below.



Several major issues caused impediments in our research.
1. The member of our group project who had initially proposed the project, as it was part of a larger research project that he is completing with faculty members at the university, withdrew from the course. With only Naomi and I left, we had to narrow the scope and depth of our collection, and adapt the project to our existing knowledge, which did not include substantial education in historical narratives of Jewish and Yiddish theatre in Pittsburgh.
2. A second major impediment that we encountered that we hadn’t foreseen, were delays caused by ArchivalWare. ArchivalWare is the archival software utilized by the department of digital collections at the Carnegie Mellon University library system. The entirety of the Jewish Criterion and several other newspapers, for the majority of their publication span, has been digitalized and placed online using ArchivalWare. ArchivalWare, while in theory is useful because it is the medium used for easily accessing digital copies of the periodicals we were examining, was our largest impediment. The software is slow, clunky, dysfunctional, and difficult to maneuver. Our project relied on being able to access these documents easily and effectively to produce mark up. While some of the mark up was done this way, we contacted Martha Berg, the archivist at Rodef Shalom Congregation in North Oakland, Pittsburgh, for assistance. All of the hard copies of the multiple newspapers included in the Carnegie Mellon Jewish Newspaper Project, the vehicle for digitalizing all of these periodicals, are housed in the basement archives of the Rodef Shalom synagogue. After consulting with Martha Berg, we set up two separate times when we spent time in the archives, manually viewing the newspapers and inputting the markup into our computers.
3. Lack of availability of Yiddish theatre resources and lack of Yiddish language skills. Both members of the group, Naomi and Eric, have very little experience with Yiddish making the initial project proposal fascinating, but difficult, and then the eventual discovery that there were few Yiddish theatre ads in the Jewish Criterion. The marginal Yiddish theatre community was isolated to a single Yiddish only publication that we did not discover until late March. Also, the group members have limited to nonexistent working skills in Yiddish therefore rendering any efforts to work with Yiddish impossible.


1. Through producing SVG graphs using the data provided in our markup and manipulating it using XQuery, we found that there were far more films than theatrical performances or plays for our sample.
2. While musical and plays were lower than other mediums; they remained consistent throughout the time frame that we sampled from.
3. The medium of film had an erratic path during the time frame that we sampled from and the data indicates that film rose to 1930, then rose to record highs in late 1935, and then dropped again by 1940, and rose slightly, but remained low in 1945.
4. During WWII, there were very few theatre or film showings in Pittsburgh.
5.Theatres in the eastern parts of the city (Squirrel Hill, Oakland, and East Liberty) – where more Jewish people lived – had more advertisements overall in the Criterion.

PowerPoint Presentation 04/15/2013