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Preserving and Extending Knowledge Through the Digital Yiddish Theater Project

Itzhak Andres
Jacob Adler and Molly Picon, two of the foremost stars of Yiddish theater, performing in New York.

The rise of digitization has made archiving and sharing scholarly information much easier than it once was, especially for subjects with a selective appeal. Such is the case with Yiddish theater.

The Yiddish theater flourished in 19th and early 20th Century Europe and, towards the end of its heyday, in the United States. The subject matter ranged from the humorous, to the melodramatic or even political. No matter the central topic, Yiddish theater was wildly popular for Jewish audiences around the world.

Joel Berkowitz, a professor and director of the Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UW-Milwaukee, along with Debra Caplan of Baruch College, developed the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project. It's a new website that compiles scholarship on the subject from around the globe.

"Theater, of course, is an itinerant art anyway; Jews have often been an itinerant people, and certainly Yiddish speaking Jews have been," says Berkowitz. "So Yiddish theater is really a global phenomenon, and theater is also an inherently multidisciplinary art."

The website is a research consortium and collaboration of the leading scholars of Yiddish theater. The website is a place to share and discuss findings with other scholars and the public. Berkowitz and Caplan came up with the idea of creating the site during a lengthy conversation at a conference. 

"When Joel and I started talking, I think it was just kind of a light bulb moment, when I realized, 'Wow, we could do this on a much bigger scale. We could really look at big, systemic patterns and have a whole new understanding of how this theater tradition worked," says Caplan. 

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.