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Manger, Itzik

MANGER, Itzik

Nationality: Israeli (originally Romanian: immigrated to England after World War II, the United States, 1951, and Israel, 1967). Born: Chernovitsy, Romania, 30 May 1901. Education: Worked in the shop of his father, a tailor. Family: Married Genia Nadir. Career: Lived between Bucharest, Warsaw, and Bukovina, 1919-29; wrote lyrics for musicals, 1930s; fled from the Nazis to Paris, 1939; met Margaret D. Waterhouse in England; wrote for American periodicals, 1951-67. Award: Itzik Manger prize for Yiddish literature, 1968. Died: 21 February 1969.

Publication

Collections

Medresh Itsik (includes Humesh lider; Megileh-lider ). 1951.

Noente geshtaltn un andere shriftn [Collected Prose Works]. 1961.

Oysgeklibene shriftn: Lider, proze, eseyen, memaurn, edited by Shemuél Rozshanski. 1970.

Ballads of Itzik Manger. 1978.

Shriftn in proze [Prose Works]. 1980.

Poetry

Shtern oyf'n dakh: Lid un balade. 1929.

Lamtern in vint: Lid un balade. 1933.

Humesh lider. 1935.

Felker zingen. 1936.

Megileh-lider. 1936.

Demerung in shpigl: Lid un balade. 1937.

Velvl Zbarzsher shraybt briv tsu Malkeh'le der sheyner. 1937.

Volkens ibern dakh: Lid un balade [Clouds over the Roof: Songs and Ballads]. 1942.

Der shnayder-gezeln Note Manger zingt [The Tailor-Lad Nota Manger Sings]. 1948.

Lid un balade [Song and Ballade]. 1952.

Shtern in shtoyb [Stars in the Dust]. 1967.

The Ballad of the Man Who Reached from Grey to Blue. 1981.

Abishag Writes a Letter Home. 1981.

By the Road There's a Tree. 1981.

The Ballad of the Old Soldier. 1981.

My Grandmother's Flowers. 1981.

A Dark Hand. 1981.

Night Prayer. 1981.

Novel

Di vunderlekhe lebnsbashraybung fun Shmuel Aba Abervo: dos bukh fun Ganeydn. 1939; as The Book of Paradise: The Wonderful Adventures of Shmuel-Aba Abervo, 1965.

Short Stories

Noente geshtaltn. 1938.

Plays

Hotsmakh shpil: A Goldfadn-motiv in 3 aktn [Hotsmach Play: Comedy in Three Acts]. 1947.

The Megilla of Itzik Manger, music by Dov Seltzer (produced Tel-Aviv, 1967).

Other

Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes: Materialn tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater [Jewish Theater between the Two World Wars], with Jonas Turkow and Moses Perenson. 1968.

Shtrikh'n tsum portret fun Itsik Manger (correspondence). 1976.

*

Film Adaptations:

Der purimshpiler: The Jester, 1937; The Bent Tree, 1980.

Bibliography:

Itzik Manger by Ephim H. Jeshurin, 1961.

Critical Studies:

Poetic and Linguistic Symbiotic Phenomena in Itzik Manger's Biblical Poetry (dissertation) by Yosi Gamzu, University of Texas, 1976; "The Last of the Purim Players: Itzik Manger" by David G. Roskies, in Prooftexts, 13(3), September, 1993, pp. 211-35; Tradition and Innovation in the Ballads of Itsik Manger (dissertation) by Helen Beer, Oxford University, 1998.

* * *

Considered one of the most prolific Yiddish poets, Itzik Manger was born in 1901 in Chernovitsy, Romania (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine). In 1921 Manger published his first poem, "Ballad of a Streetwalker." In the 1930s he wrote the lyrics for the Warsaw musical production of Sholem Aleichem's novel Wandering Stars as well as the lyrics for the first Yiddish film musical, Yiddle with His Fiddle, which starred Molly Picon. His popularity as a poet brought him the opportunity to write for several Yiddish theater productions in Warsaw in the 1930s. Manger's best-known series of poems for the theater, "Songs from the Book of Esther," was staged 30 years later on Broadway as The Megillah of Itzik Manger. His biblical poetry also served as the basis for the hit musical Songs of Paradise produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. His biggest success was with Nathan Alterman's Hebrew version of Samuel Gronemann's The King and the Cobbler in the 1960s.

Yiddish literature, deprived of its audience and its practitioners by the forces of history, lives largely in the works of writers such as Manger. His work combines a cosmopolitan sophistication with an equally strong sense of folk identity. Literary craftsmanship meant seeing traditional stories as relics; the process involved rediscovering and then refashioning them. In their re-creations they endure as original folk tales. Manger's career was profoundly shaped by the Holocaust. He chose to write in the ballad form, looking to such characters as wedding jesters for inspiration and charmingly retelling the Bible as "a Yiddish folk epic to outlast the living folk, the living language, the living landscape." His biblical dramas were written in both Hebrew and Yiddish.

During World War II the racial laws in Romania caused Yiddish theater to cease functioning. Nonetheless, a number of Jewish actors who had been deported to Transnistria organized evenings of Yiddish theater in the lagers of Vapniarka, Jmerinka, and Moghilev. Simultaneously in Bucharest, Jewish actors organized in synagogues from 1940 until 1944, under the pretext of holding commemorations. These events allowed them to produce dramas and festivals devoted to Jewish writers; they staged fragments of plays and gave poetry readings. Although the audiences did not dare to applaud, they shouted the toast L'chaim at the end of each number. During the years of the ruthless Iron Guard and fascist terror, under the nose of the political police, the lofty human ideas of the classics of Yiddish literature were spread—in Romanian. Jewish theater was not allowed until after the war.

Before World War II there had been five Yiddish theaters in Romania—two in Bucharest, two in Chernovitsy, and one in Yassy. In 1948 the first state theaters were set up, among which was the Jewish State Theatre of Bucharest. Performances were again in Yiddish. Under the Communist regime (1948-89) the repertoires were heavily censored. In 1972 the Jewish State Theatre of Bucharest toured the United States and Canada with great success.

Manger's place in the cultural history of the Jews was recognized by Golda Meir in 1969 when she established the first annual Manger Prize for Yiddish Literature. His writing, which spanned poetry, essays, cultural history, rabbinic writings, politics, and fiction, occupies a central place in Jewish literary identity. His work is included in the Unesco Anthology of World Poetry, The Treasure of Yiddish Stories, and The Treasure of Yiddish Poetry.

—Martha Sutro

See the essay on "My Hate Song."

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