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THE DYBBUK: THE PLAY! THE FILM!

Saturday, December 5, 2020, 6:00 - 7:30 pm, Pacific. Guest Facilitator: Karen Goodman, Choreographer/Performer and Independent Scholar. The Dybbuk is an undisputed masterpiece of modernist Jewish literature from the writer and ethnographer S. Ansky. Written in Russian as a play--and scheduled to premiere four years later, in 1918, with the Moscow Art Theatre--the much anticipated performance of The Dybbuk was cancelled due to director Konstantin Stanislavski's illness.

With the country in the throes of the Bolshevik Revolution, the 55-year-old socialist took political refuge in Vilna. Ansky's ground-breaking play was finally performed in the author's own Yiddish translation by the Vilner Troupe in December 1920. Ansky did not live to see the performance. Two years later, a version was staged in Moscow in Hebrew by the Habima Theatre.



In 1937, director Michael Waszynski's Yiddish-language film, Der Dibuk, was produced in Poland with an all-star cast of Yiddish actors. An orchestral score leaning on cantorial music was added. Renowned choreographer Judith Berg staged three traditional Jewish wedding dance scenes blending meticulous folklore scholarship with the the film's Expressionist idiom. Berg herself danced the role of Death, a masked figure in a striped garment, in the haunting Dance of Death scene.

For our discussion:


1. Begin with Golda Werman's translation of Ansky's play in The Dybbuk and Other Writings (Yale U Press, 2002).


2. View the film in Yiddish with English subtitles (2 hrs.) on YouTube:


3. For context about Ansky and Russian modernism, we suggest:

  • Karen Goodman's article, "Synthesis in Motion" (2014) pp. 87-90, in The Dybbuk folder. Go to: Menu/Resources/PDFs/The Dybbuk

  • David Roskies' Introduction in The Dybbuk and Other Writings

  • Gabrielle Safran's article about Ansky on the YIVO website https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Rapoport_Shloyme_Zaynvl

  • Other readings in The Dybbuk folder

4. Photos (below) from the original Habima production of The Dybbuk. Courtesy of Karen Goodman. For further reading suggestions, scroll down

Feminist Social History


Elior, Rachel, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk)--S. An-sky. Dybbuks and Jewish Women in Social History, Mysticism and Folklore, Urim Publications, 2008.


Film Studies

  • Rosenberg, Joel. “The Soul of Catastrophe: On the 1937 Film of S. An-sky’sThe Dybbuk.” Jewish social studies 17, no. 2 (January 1, 2011): 1–27.

Feminist and lesbian literature

  • Legutko, Agnieszka. "Feminist Dybbuks: spirit possession motif in post-second wave Jewish women's fiction." Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 2010, p. 6+.

Between theater and anthropology in Israel

  • Bilu, Yoram. “The Return of the Dybbuk: Between Ritual Healing and Stage Performance.” TDR : Drama review 64, no. 3 (September 1, 2020): 33–51.

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