The Melting Pot: Russian Jewish New York

Case 4: Entertainers > Theaters

The Thalia Theatre, 46 Bowery, on the West Side of the Bowery Just Below Canal Street.

Unknown photographer. New York, no date.

Community Service Society Archives



"Between 1880 and 1940, as many as a dozen Yiddish theater companies performed on the Lower East Side, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Another 200 or so traveled to other cities and towns. By presenting plays on themes such as generational conflict between Old Country immigrants and their American-born children, or the tensions between Chasidic and ‘enlightened’ Jews in Europe and America, the theater helped Yiddish speaking immigrants place the contradictions in their own lives in perspective. By adapting works like Shakespeare’s King Lear or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler to give them haimische endings, the theater helped working class Jews partake of ‘high’ culture while preserving traditional Jewish values. Yiddish theater helped bridge the shtetl and America." (

Program for The Melting Pot

Popular use of the melting-pot metaphor for describing New York City is believed to have derived from Israel Zangwill's play The Melting Pot, which was performed in Washington, D.C. in 1908 and then became a Broadway hit in the season of 1909-1910. The play was an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, set by Zangwill in New York City. The hero of the play is a young Jewish composer who falls in love with the daughter of an anti-Semitic Russian nobleman. Zangwill’s play emphatically claimed that America was a new country where the old hatreds had no place. For the new immigrants in it was pointless, evil, and probably impossible to try to keep alive their old animosities and prejudices.


Kessler Second Avenue Theatre. Playbill, New York, no date






Jacob Adler (1855–1926). Photograph, no place, no date

Ukrainian-born Jewish actor and star in Yiddish theater, first
in Odessa, later in London and New York City. Adler scored a
great triumph in the title role of Jacob Gordin's Der Yiddisher King Lear (The Yiddish King Lear), set in 19th century Russia, which along with his portrayal of Shakespeare's Shylock would form the core of the persona he defined as the "Grand Jew."


Yiddish Art Theatre. Yoshe Kalb. Playbill. New York, 1933





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