The Origin and Early
History of the Habima
The Habima Theatre ("Habima" means "stage" in Hebrew) was
founded in Moscow by Nahum Zemach, not long after the 1905
revolution. During their first few years of existence, the
Habima troupe was comprised mostly of amateurs and teachers.
They organized and performed without charge. in attics and
cellars, all the time evolving into the Habima of today.
Their performances reflected their ideology and artistry. In
1911, the group went on tour to various Russian cities as
well as Vienna. All of the Habima's performances were given
in Hebrew and often dealt with many of the problems
experienced by the Jewish people.
The troupe struggled under the
persecution of the Tsarist government before World War I,
that forbade plays to be presented in Hebrew. The Hebrew
language had been forbidden in Russia at that time. It was
during this time that Moscow Art Theatre and Stanislavski
took the Habima under its wing, not wanting it to fail in
its efforts. The troupe also were forced to stop their
activities because of the post-war Soviet Government in
1917. The troupe were forced to disband for two years;
Zemach then found work as a bank clerk. After this time,
under the aegis of Stanislavsky, he once again started up
the Habima, and from then on they developed a program that
would eventually earn the group worldwide recognition.
In 1921 Zemach turned to folk
drama as the basis for what would be the group's repertoire.
First he chose "The Dybbuk," a drama of legend written by S.
Ansky. He subsequently chose "The Golem" by H. Leivick, a
version of this play produced under the title "The Deluge",
"Jacob's Dream" by Beer-Hoffman, and "The Eternal Jew"
written by David Pinski.
In 1926 the Habima company
left the Soviet Union and toured widely for a number of
years in Europe and the United States. They played in one
hundred and eleven performances at New York's Mansfield
Theatre from December 1926 to March 1927.
One year later, Nahum Zemach
and some other actors of the troupe decided to remain in the
United States; others chose to immigrate to Palestine, where
Habima would make its new home. It later became the national
theatre of Israel in 1958.