Ester Rokhl Kaminska and the legitimization of Yiddish theatre

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Ester Rokhl Kaminska (1870–1925) was the star of the Warsaw Yiddish theatre scene. She began her acting career in the early 1890s, performing shund (cheap) operettas in small, itinerant troupes. In 1905 she established a theatre in Warsaw with her husband, in which she served as leading actress and manager, until her death. She belonged to the first generation of Yiddish theatre artists who introduced the medium of theatre into Eastern European Jewish society and facilitated its legitimization. After her death, colleagues and critics designated her as “the mother of Yiddish theatre.” In this article, I investigate the motherly image of E. R. Kaminska. I argue that this image was not merely a matter of nostalgic yearning for a beloved actress in the golden age of Yiddish theatre. It was Kaminska herself who, while playing a variety of mothers’ roles in the course of her career, formulated her own multilayered, motherly, public image. Her mothers’ roles, to my mind, had a wide-reaching effect not only on Kaminska’s acting career, but also on the canonization of Yiddish theatre altogether, as they turned the theatre–the very medium in which they were created–into an acceptable art form, suitable for a respectable bourgeois Jewish audience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-480
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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