Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin
Thursday November 17Socialize over refreshments: 1:00 pm
Program: 1:30 - 3:00 pm$4 Drop-In
Writer/actress Beth Kaplan shares an inside look at the life and creative achievements of her great-grandfather, Jacob Gordin, the influential playwright and icon of the Yiddish stage. Includes a dramatic performance by Jack Newman.
Russian-Jewish writer and social activist Jakov Mikhailovich Gordin landed on the Lower East Side of New York at the age of 38. Though he had never before written for the theatre or in Yiddish, within five months, he had written and sold three Yiddish plays. A born teacher and reformer, Gordin was determined to elevate the Yiddish theatre’s operettas and melodramas,
to introduce immigrant audiences to a serious theatre of ideas. A year later came The Jewish King Lear, Gordin’s breakthrough play, a key transformative moment for the Jewish stage.
During his eighteen years in America, Gordin wrote some 70 plays and countless one-acts and stories. He founded newspapers, magazines, theatre workshops and a school for Jewish immigrants. His plays were produced all over the world, including in Prague, where one fan was a writer called Franz Kafka. Many actors, including the great Stella Adler, began their careers in Gordin plays. He was known as the Jewish Shakespeare, Lion of the Jewish stage, and his era as “The Golden Age of the Yiddish Theatre.” Yet as he lay dying, a vicious vendetta by the only man as powerful on the Lower East Side as he destroyed his reputation and his life’s work.
One of Gordin’s eleven children was Beth Kaplan’s grandmother. Kaplan, a Canadian writer, teacher and actress, spent many years tracking down her ancestor’s powerful, inspiring and haunting story for her book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare:The Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, published in 2007. In this presentation, Beth will speak both about her ancestor’s extraordinary life and about her search for him.
Award-winning actress and playwright Beth Kaplan is the author of three books: the memoir All My Loving; True to Life, a textbook about creative writing; and Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: the Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, a biography of her great-grandfather (published in 2007 and reissued in paperback in 2012). Beth has lectured on Jacob Gordin, among other places, at the Medem Yiddish Library of Paris, at Oxford University, at the Stella Adler Studio and the 92nd Street Y in New York, and throughout Canada. In 2008, she delivered the Wexler Lecture in Jewish History in Washington, D.C. Beth has taught memoir and personal essay writing at Ryerson University and at the University of Toronto for many years, and she is the winner of
U of T’s Excellence in Teaching award. More information