The glory days of the Yiddish stage are brought to life in this bittersweet saga of a legendary theatrical family, the Bursteins.
Pesach'ke Burstein, the dancing-singing comedian, was born in a small Jewish town in Poland in the late 19th century. Drawn to the disreputable profession of komediant (actor), fourteen-year old Pesach'ke ran away from home to join a traveling troupe of Jewish actors - from that day on, the theater became his life.
Armed with an engaging ability to whistle, young Pesach'ke arrived in New York in 1924 and quickly became a leading figure in the Golden Era of Yiddish theater. On stage, he met and fell in love with sixteen-year old rising star Lillian Lux. The couple would later marry and together embark on a triumphant acting tour of South America and Europe, only to narrowly escape on the last boat out of Poland in 1939.
After the war, the Bursteins became the parents of twins, Mike and Susan, who before long were given the stage names Motele and Zisele. By the age of seven, the two children were appearing regularly on the stage, accompanying their parents as they wandered around the globe in search of the dwindling Jewish communities of a decimated and dying Yiddish culture. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Bursteins came to Israel with the thought that it would be a natural home for their performance, but they left Israel and went back to new York after discovering that in Israel Yiddish was downtrodden in a manner unlike every where in the world.
In time, the pressures of theatrical life would take its toll on the Bursteins. At age 18, stage-shy Susan would escape via early marriage, followed shortly thereafter by her brother Mike, whose solo success would leave Pesach'ke and Lillian without their show's star attraction.
Smoothly incorporating rare archival footage and interviews with Yiddish stage veterans (including Fyvush Finkel and Shifra Lerer), this tightly edited, briskly paced documentary is as richly bittersweet - filled with laughter and tears, schmaltz and grit - as the Yiddish theater itself.
85 min., Unrated
In English, Yiddish and Hebrew with English Subtitles
Color and B&W
WITH ARNON GOLDFINGER, OSHRA SCHWARTZ
& ZEBRA PRODUCTIONS LTD.