It took seven years for Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir to raise funds for a documentary about one week in the death of New York City’s last surviving regular Yiddish theater. Focused on the iconic Folksbiene troupe as it performs the legendary play Green Fields to great notices and next to no audience, Yiddish Theater: A Love Story offers a tribute to the perseverance of 84-year-old Zypora Spaisman, a Polish Holocaust survivor and all-around great dame who did more than most to keep the theater’s flame burning. Behind her story is a sadder tale of Jewish cultural decline and the limits of the vaunted Yiddish revival, as Spaisman and producer David Romeo strive quixotically to raise enough money to open a new theater on Broadway. Lively talking heads lay out the reasons for the decay of Yiddish culture—just as the Holocaust and Soviet anti-Semitism killed off seminal Yiddish writers, creeping secularism and Israeli ambivalence about cultural heritage replaced Yiddish with modern Hebrew. What’s missing from this gentle homage—perhaps for budgetary reasons—is a sense of the joyful heyday of Yiddish theater, and the richness it brought to the artistic life of Manhattan. A bissel Molly Picon couldn’t hurt, could it?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 13, 2007