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The Habima in New York

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.

From the New York Times, Dec 7, 1926
(Moscow Troupe of Forty to Be Permitted to Land Today Under Bond of $500 Each.)

The Habima Players from the Moscow Art Theatre numbering fifteen women, eighteen men and seven machinists and property men, forty in all, arrived yesterday on the Cunarder Carmania and were sent to Ellis Island in the afternoon on a special boat with their baggage from the pier at the foot of West Fourteenth Street. They will appear before a Special Board of Inquiry today and be permitted to land under the regular bond of $500 each, which will be furnished by S. Hurok, the impresario who brought them to New York.

The Russian company is booked for a six months' tour and will open with "The Dybbuk," at the Mansfield Theatre in West Forty-seventh Street. Nachum Zemach is the director, Mme. Rovina is the leading woman and B. Tchmerinsky is the leading actor  of the troupe. Zemach said that the  title "Habima" means the tribune and added that every member in the company received the same pay irrespective of his duties in the theatre.

The Habima Company is subsidized by the Soviet in Moscow, the director said, and married members who have children in Russia get an extra allowance for them. Mr. Zemach, who founded the organization, said that seats in the theatre in Moscow cost from 25 cents to $8, but on opening nights the tickets cost from 50 cents to $16.

"The Dybbuk" by S. Ansky, performance Dec 1926



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