Dora Wasserman, the indefatigable founding director of Canada's only Yiddish Theatre, died last night at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital. She was 84.
Wasserman not only created a vibrant company of actors who are among the most respected non-professional groups in the country, she helped nurture Yiddish language and culture.
"Theatre has nothing to do with language. If language is the problem, its not a problem, " she once told a reporter. "If (a play) is good, you will feel it. You don't need to understand the language on stage."
Dora Goldfarb was born in Chernikhov, Russia, on June 30, 1919. She was the youngest of five daughters in a poor family, and even as a child, her sisters referred to her as a showoff.
She began acting when she was 15 and trained with the Moscow Yiddish Academy. During the Second World War, Wasserman toured with the Kiev State Theatre entertaining Soviet troops. On the road in 1944, she met Shura Wasserman, a Polish Jew, in Kazakhstan, and for the last 59 years, until he died three weeks ago, they shared their lives together. They had two daughters, Bryna and Ella.
The Wassermans came to Montreal from Stalinist Russia in 1950. Shura worked as a furrier and Dora was hired by the Jewish Public Library in 1955 for $5 a week. She started a youth drama group for the Jewish People's School and her first play, Rich Man, Poor Man, was produced in 1958.
Although she was demanding, she endeared herself to everyone she met with her mix of languages. "Give me a minute for two seconds," is among one of her best-known quips.
Gratien Gelinas offered her fledgling company the use of his east-end theatre, the Comedie Canadienne. The Yiddish Theatre moved into its home in the Saidye Bronfman Centre in 1973.
If she couldn't find suitable scripts, she created her own. In 1977, Wasserman staged Papineau, a musical about life in Montreal's thriving Jewish immigrant community around Papineau St. near the turn of the 20th century. In 1984, she had Ted Allan's play, Lies My Father Told Me, translated into Yiddish, and then staged Michel Tremblay's Quebec classic, Les Belles Soeurs, as Di Shvegerin. Isaac Bashevis Singer allowed her to adapt his works.
She often toured with the company in Israel, the United States, Austria and Russia.
Wasserman worked until 1996, when she suffered a stroke. Her daughter, Bryna, took over the company, but Dora continued to show up in a wheelchair for every performance.
In 1992, Wasserman was invested as a member of the Order of Canada and was given the Order of Quebec in October.
Tel Aviv Tusday 16 December 2003
I am sorry to hear about the death of Dora.
The Editorial Board of All About Jewish Theatre, The People to People Center at the Jewish Agency ,The Global Arts Initiative and all Theatre professionals in Israel and worldwide are participating in your grief,
I would like to wish you , the family and your Theatre members and friends all the best.
All Jewish and Yiddish Theatre lovers will miss her a lot.
Director & Chief Editor
All About Jewish Theatre
Theatre in Spotlight -The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre Montreal.Director:Bryna Wasserman
Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia
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