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Joseph Rumshinsky Tells About
Fifty Years of the Yiddish Theatre
 A series of thirty-six articles written by Rumshinsky, over a four-month period, for the Jewish Forward newspaper,
from December 1, 1952, until April 2, 1953. Articles appeared in the Jewish Forward every Monday and Thursday.

Episode 34: March 26. 1953

Samuel Rosenstein. -- The Apollo of Yiddish theatre.
-- A lonely life in old age. -- Why do you need a conductor?


"My God, that God sleeps,
everything is punished;
there he hears well in heaven,
even though he sits far away. "

This song was sung by Samuel Rosenstein in Jacob Gordin's play, "Eyts hada'as (Tree of Knowledge)," in the role of Shmaike, a carpenter's assistant. The aforementioned song is from Abraham Goldfaden's play, "Ni be, ni me, ni kukureku." When Samuel Rosenstein would start: "Don't think that God sleeps", all the apprentice-carpenters would continue "everything gets punished," etc.

This song is so engraved in my memory and was so closely related to Samuel Rosenstein, that over all of my years that I have seen and written romances and songs for him, this first song that I heard him sing, used to ring in my ears, "My God, that God sleeps, all will be punished." Samuel Rosenstein was the most elegant, handsome lover on the Yiddish stage.

The beginning of his career went entirely smoothly; his ways were virtually without thorns. He was the first to be engaged, the best-paid in his profession, and as the American would say, "the best dresser." When he used to ascend the stage, he looked as if he was taken from a box, only to appear in the window as an example of elegant attire.

When a lingering cloud appeared on his horizon, as soon as he began to meet a few thorns along the way, he said as if to order: "Fellow actors! Dear colleagues! We will not pack in the elderly. I hate that you look at me with a pitiful face. I've forgiven you! I want that you should think only of the beauty and easy-going Rosenstein. And if it's starting to go a bit awry with me, it is good, my friends! Because I've had enough."

Rosenstein could rightly be called the Apollo of the Yiddish theatre.


Rosenstein did not need a lot of effort to play a lover on the stage; he did not need a lot of makeup on his face to look handsome; he did not need to change his voice to speak softer; he did not need to change his gait to be gallant; he knew from the street how to go out right away onto the stage and play his lover role, because he was not created, not a made-up lover. His way of speaking, his movements, his attire, his look, his smile -- everything that was associated with him, confirmed that here goes the "matinee idol," the lover, the Apollo of the Yiddish theatre.

That the female lover used to weep and plea to her parents on the stage: "If you will prevent my marriage to the pharmacist (meaning Rosenstein), if you will stand in the way of my happiness, I will not stand for it, because I love him -- he is handsome, he speaks beautifully, he sings beautifully." And the young girls and wives in the theatre indeed used to sympathize. Each of them thought in their hearts: She nevertheless has the right.

Rosenstein's ability to play and appear as a lover attracted the attention of the Broadway managers. When in 1907 they chose to present Franz Lehár's famous operetta, "Di lustige almone (The Merry Widow)," they then asked Rosenthal to play the marquis. Also when they chose to stage on Broadway, "Tsigayner libe (Gypsy Love)," they invited him to play the role of the young, lively gypsy. But he felt very, very good on the Yiddish stage.

The last ten years of his life Rosenstein took a slight interest in staging a play, and with direction in general. He had a feeling for this, and also a desire.

For Rosenstein in the last years [the condition of] his legs and body became a little harder, but his face and his eyelets were still young and fresh.

When a lover-singer performed in the late forties, in the years when in private life you are still considered a young man, and you think that soon you will be fifty, the fear of the coming age does not make you any healthier; especially for a lover, one becomes a little ill, and people are afraid to speak out -- After all., one is a lover of something. Go tell the world that the Apollo is a little "damaged."

So the handsome Rosenstein began to feel, during the last years of his life, a little depressed.

He was taken aback that they were already looking at him differently -- that is to say, with a pitiful face. And in the initial years of his fifties he began to withdraw from a social activist life.

He began to lead a lonely life, and the loneliness tormented him. He already did not want to be in New York. For the first time in his life he became engaged outside of New York -- in Chicago. On the way to Chicago he expired.

When he was lying in his casket, looking like a lover, the Apollo, we sounded the tenor of his song:

"My God, that God sleeps,
everything is punished."


There sits the young klezmer, the middle-aged, the elderly and very young, with their various instruments, and look at their names. Among them one finds musicians who have graduated from conservatories, musicians who have an advanced musical education, and yet there stands one who commands with his hand and directs all of the klezmer, like an assistant leading a room of boys. He moves his hands slowly -- they play slowly; he moves quickly -- they play quickly; he wants --they play strongly, and he wants -- they play quietly.

That this, which he does with his hands and commands an orchestra, chorus and actors, this person is called a conductor, director or kapellmeister.

Many listeners often put forth the question: What is the need to wave the hand? On the contrary, it seems, that he stares widely and becomes dizzy before one's eyes.

Indeed there was once  a greenhorn relative of a theatre manger who came for the job as a watchman, or a janitor, and perhaps indeed for this he stood among the klezmer and made with his hand, because nevertheless this a person who does nothing. Who cannot make with the hand, and in particular a Jew? And not once had it already happened that one of the public came to the director with a claim that making with his hands he imagines it, that he cannot see the actors playing.

In the theatre the orchestra plays the second role, just like a cantor with choirboys. For example: the actor is the cantor, and the orchestra -- the choirboys. For a symphony concert the orchestra -- the musicians -- is the first role. Usually the conductor plays with a symphony the most important role, and this, while attending symphonic concerts, is more interesting with the conductor -- they do not take their eyes off the conductor. And at the symphonic concert the conductor is the entire attraction.

The question is: Where does it come from? Where does the skill of the conductor lie? The answer is -- "Rhythm," that is, beat, tempo. Rhythm is the soul of music. A small child who is inclined to music, before releasing a musical tenor, he first feels the rhythm. The mother sings a little song, he begins to beat; but he hears an orchestra play in a street, he runs after the beat.

There are two types of conductors: the one who "beats in time," and the one who "conducts." The one who "beats in time" belongs to those who are seen in the military orchestras. Their hand movements have one purpose: the march, which only has one tempo, and "time," which is indeed called the "march tempo," which should end as it begins, as an automatic thing, strictly in time, or as they say in the old country, "Po soldatski." This type of movement of the hands is one tempo called "beating (taktiren)."

The second type of wave of the hand: the conductor, whose ten fingers is found in the entire composition, the entire thing, this entire musical work where tempos change often -- here slowly, here quickly, here quietly, here strongly, that sort of waving of the hands is called conducting (dirigiren).

The dirizshor (director) also needs to be a psychologist, in order to affect the musical soul, to know how to win the orchestra's trust and love.

There are great male and female opera singers who will not sing with another conductor, and only with the one that he or she trusts. There must be a pet conductor before their eyes. When they don't have them, they have difficulty singing. This already affects their imagination; his hand makes them feel light and comfortable. It's just like reaching out to a certain doctor or dentist with a light hand.

The writer of these lines heard how the governor of the Vilna shul once said that with a warm, good, temperamental conductor, praying is better, and the Yom Kippur fasting is easier.

In the opera, in a concert hall, and even in the synagogue, where there is only playing and singing, the man with the stick is the man with the wand, the electric power in music.


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