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                                                               YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  DER NAYDER


"The Vow"
(Der nayder)

by Herman Lieberman

directed by David Herman

Settings by Alex. Chertov

at the Prospect Theatre, Bronx, NY

Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday matinee and evening

October 6, 7, 8, 1933





Boris Auerbach



Rivke, his wife

Rebecca Weintraub


Rochele, their daughter

Jennie Goldstein


Bashka, their niece

Bella Bellarina


Malania, Rochele's Gentile nurse

Tillie Rabinowitz


Shifra, Rivka's sister

Katie Kaplan


Yisroel, Rochele's husband

Sam Gertler


Golda, his sister

Sonya Gurskaya


A Chassidic Rabbi

Chaim Schneuer


Menahem, a beadle

Jacob Wexler


A Torah Scribe

Peter Graf



Israel Mandel


A Doctor

Louis Hyman


Zirele, Rochele's daughter

Gertrude Bulman



Irving Goldstein


Menuha Leah

Clara Honigman



Frankie Schechtman



Rebecca Kantrowitz


Simeon, Israel's crony

Hyman Lewis


A wedding Bard

H. Miller



Yetta Shoengold


Rev. Moishe Dion

Mordecai Schwartz

Townspeople, Chassidim, boys, girls, etc.

Time -- 50 years ago             Place -- Southern Russia

After this prologue, curtain will be lowered to indicate an elapse of eight years.

Act 2 -- Five years later.            Act 3 -- Ten years later.

SYNOPSIS OF HERMAN LIEBERMAN'S "DER NAYDER" (prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz)

Introductory Note: "Der nayder" (The Vow)" is described by the author as a folk drama. Save for its happy ending, it might also be described as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, that is, one in which misfortune comes to essentially good and noble people because of some fault in human nature, or through circumstances beyond their control Rochele, the heroine of the drama, is a sweet and gentle girl, dutiful daughter, and devoted wife who comes to grief because she once had a love affair with a Gentile boy. The story of her sin, atonement, and final redemption forms the theme of the play, a play abounding in finely etched characters, dramatic situations, and quiet humor, and enacted against an Old World background of fifty years ago, with its profoundly religious life, wonder-working rabbi, quaint superstitions, and colorful folkways.

The author of the play, Herman Lieberman, is on the editorial staff of the Jewish Daily Forward. He is a brilliant essayist and literary critic, whose Catholic taste ranges from Dante to Schnitzler. Of his many published books, perhaps the finest is "Eugene O'Neill: An American Dramatist."


Rochele, only daughter of the patriarchal Shloima, a wealthy and pious Chassid, is about to be married to Yisroel, a learned, handsome and rich young man of fine family, whom her parents have chosen for her. Now Jewish brides in Eastern Europe shed tears in profusion on their wedding day, but Rochel's grief is more than usual. This does not escape the notice of her mother Rivka, who is naturally fearful for her only child; but to all her questions, Rochele gives only evasive replies. The secret of her sorrow is Volodia, son of the Greek Orthodox priest who lives next door They have long been in love, but neither would hurt his or her parents by a change of religion. Rochele is not overjoyed when Malania, her faithful but rough-spoken Gentile nurs, who has sensed her secret, brings her a love potion with which to win Yisroel's affection When, contrary to the custom, the bride is left alone for a moment, Volodia steals in for a final parting.


Eight years later. Rochele has proven a model wife, and Yisroel loves her dearly. She has born him three children, all of whom, however, died in their infancy. Now she is with child again. In order to invoke divine mercy upon the unborn child, Isroel, upon advice of the Rabbi has hired a pious Torah scribe to write the Law upon a scroll on parchment for presentation to the synagogue. The idea of saving the life of the unborn child in this manner disgusts Yisroel's sister Golda, a sour old maid and village atheist, combining the worst features of each, who keeps on telling Yisroel that the reason his children die is because Rochele is a sickly woman. When the Scroll of the Law is finished save for the last three letters, a celebration is arranged at Yisroel's home to which the Rabbi and other prominent men of the town are invited. Yisroel donates hundreds of roubles to charity for the privilege of writing the last three letters of the sacred text. Thereupon the Rabbi delivers a short sermon, basing his text on the verse in which the Lord is described as "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation." His remarks terrify Rochele, who now feels that her children have perished because of her sin. When the Rabbi calls upon her to place the silk mantle over the scroll, she approaches with faltering steps, then collapses. Thereupon he sends everyone out of the room, and soon obtains a full confession from her. She tells him how one night, before her betrothal to Yisroel, she felt restless and went to sit under the cherry tree which her father had planted in his garden on the day of her birth; she fell into a deep slumber, and when she awoke, she found herself in the arms of Volodia. She tells him also how, when her third child lay dying, it asked to be kissed by its mother; but before she could touch its lips, the infant passed away. The Rabbi tells her that this was because the pure soul of the child did not want her unclean kiss. She implores the Rabbi for a penance with which to atone for her sin, and he makes her take a vow not to kiss the child soon to be born from the moment of its birth until the moment when it shall stand under the marriage canopy. After she makes her vow, he summons the people back into the room; the celebration is resumed where it was interrupted, following which the Scroll of the Law is carried in procession to the synagogue.


In due time Rochele gives birth to a fourth child, a girl named Zirele. In order not to be tempted to break her vow, Rochele keeps away from the child, -- so much so, that the whole town is gossiping about her coldness to Zirele, now a girl of five. And now Zirele is in turn gravely ill, with a doctor in attendance day and night. The doctor declares that unless the child can manage to fall asleep, her case is hopeless. All sorts of superstitious practices are resorted to in a vain effort to save her; she is "sold" to a woman who has never lost a child; she is given a new name, etc. Finally, the child, whose playmates used to tease her because her mother never kissed her, begins to cry in her delirium for Rochele to come and kiss her. The doctor declares that if the child's wish is granted she may calm down, fall asleep and recover. Rochele runs to the Rabbi for advice whether or not to break her vow. The Rabbi, in mystical, oracular words, devolves the great moral decision upon herself. Rochele, more mystified and forlorn than ever, returns home, where she is met by her husband and family who implore and demand that she kiss the child. In order not to weaken, she flees from her home and disappears.


Ten years later. Rochele has never been seen since her disappearance, and it is generally believed that she is dead. Her daughter Zirele, on the other hand, recovered from her illness and developed into a healthy and beautiful girl. At the Rabbi's command, she was betrothed at an early age. He also ordered that a great feast be prepared for the poor on her wedding day, and that news of the feast be spread far and wide so that the poor of the whole district might come. As the curtain goes up, the great day is at hand, and we witness typical wedding-day scenes such as were common in the smaller Russian-Jewish communities of that period. Though everything is ready for the ceremony, the Rabbi keeps on delaying it. Finally he sends word that they may start it. It commences in the presence of a larger number of wedding guests and beggars, with the traditional prayer for the dead, in this case the bride's mother, Rochele. But at the first mention of her name, Rochele steps forth from among the beggars. They all think it is her ghost ,and implore her to return to her grave. But just then the Rabbi arrives and tells her that her ordeal is at an end, and now she may kiss her daughter. She asks to see the bridegroom and is astonished to find out that he is the son of her deceased lover, Volodia. The bridegroom tells her that before his father died, he called him to his bedside and told him that he too had loved a Jewish girl, but had lacked the courage to change his religion: then he bade him become a Jew.



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