From the Ghet­to to the Melt­ing Pot: Israel Zang­will’s Jew­ish Plays

Edna Nahshon, ed.
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
Israel Zang­will (1864 – 1926) is remem­bered as Anglo Jewry’s renowned nov­el­ist and leader of the Jew­ish Ter­ri­to­r­i­al Orga­ni­za­tion. How­ev­er, less is known about his con­sid­er­able achieve­ment as a play­wright on the West End and Broad­way. 

Of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance are the three plays he wrote about Jew­ish life, the well received pro­duc­tions of which did much to dis­pel the neg­a­tive image of the stage Jew” then preva­lent, while explor­ing reli­gious, eth­nic and social issues that remain rel­e­vant to this day. 

Edna Nahshon has pro­duced a well­re­searched and much need­ed col­lec­tion of these plays with ample infor­ma­tion on their pro­duc­tion his­to­ry and inci­sive crit­i­cal com­men­tary. We owe to her the dis­cov­ery and pub­li­ca­tion of the pre­sumed lost man­u­script of Chil­dren of the Ghet­to and the orig­i­nal ver­sions of The Melt­ing Pot and The King of Schnorrers. 

Along with pro­vid­ing a rich por­trait of 19th cen­tu­ry Jew­ish life in London’s East End, Chil­dren of the Ghet­to, based on Zangwill’s pop­u­lar nov­el with the same title, pro­vides a telling con­flict between an Ortho­dox rab­bi and his free think­ing daughter.

In The Melt­ing Pot, the Jew­ish vio­lin­ist hero elo­quent­ly cham­pi­ons the Unit­ed States as the cru­cible in which per­se­cut­ed refugees like him­self, a sur­vivor of the Kishin­eff Pogrom, will leave behind the inter-eth­nic enmi­ties endem­ic to their Euro­pean ori­gins and melt” into one prej­u­dice-free peo­ple. The suc­cess of the pro­duc­tion turned its title into a metaphor for the Amer­i­can immi­grant expe­ri­ence. Based on anoth­er pop­u­lar nov­el, The King of Schnor­rers is a hilar­i­ous com­e­dy dra­ma­tiz­ing the tri­umphs in chutz­pah of the Sephardic beg­gar, Manes­sa Bueno Bar­sil­lai Azeve­do, against the Jew­ish estab­lish­ment— both Ashke­naz­ic and Sephardic. 

Kol ha-kavod to Dr. Nahshon for recov­er­ing for our knowl­edge and enjoy­ment such a lit­er­ary and Juda­ic treasure!
Nor­man J. Fed­der, Ph.D., is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the­atre at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly on the fac­ul­ty of the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Arts Pro­gram at Nova South­east­ern University.

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