One More Night at Elving Metropolitan Yiddish Theater
Photographs from the Elving Metropolitan Theater Collection at the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest.
During the early part of the 20th century, as a direct result of persecution in Europe, Jewish immigration to the United States swelled, and numerous Yiddish theaters of all sizes and descriptions were founded wherever large pockets of Jewish immigrants settled. Many of these theaters were located on New York City's Lower East Side; Elving Metropolitan Theater had the distinction of being the most successful commercial Yiddish theater in the entire state of New Jersey.
Located at 117 Montgomery Street in Newark's traditionally Jewish Third Ward, Elving Metropolitan Theater opened in 1922 when Newark was already home to the fourth largest (and growing) Jewish community in the nation, and was a place where Yiddish was the language heard on many streets. Elving, located in the heart of the Jewish community, was known as the place to go for Yiddish operettas and songs, and packed its 1200-1400 seats with a neighborhood audience that sought quality entertainment close to home.
The principal owners of the theater were brothers Bernard and Israel Elving. Bernard Elving, sometimes equated in newspaper accounts as a Jewish John Barrymore, starred and sang in the productions. His regular co-star and wife Rose Elving assisted him in writing scripts and staging productions. Israel Elving handled the business details and maintained relations with the various Hebrew Actors Unions. Every notable Yiddish star appeared on the Elvings'stage, including Molly Picon, Boris Thomaschevsky, Jacob Adler, and David Kessler (Kessler owned his own New York City Second Avenue Yiddish Theater), to name only a fraction of the most recognizable.
What did audiences see? For the most part, the plays were centered around subjects close to the hearts of Eastern European Jewish immigrants during the 1920's and 1930's in Newark's Third Ward (currently the South Ward), such as unrequited love, a wife waiting in Europe for her husband in America to send for her, intermarriage and its consequences, ungrateful children and other traditional tear-jerkers.
Reading the records held in the JHSMW archives, it is clear that Elving was a popular place to go - and everyone went there, from gangster and bootlegger Abner "Longy" Zwillman (who regularly bought blocks of orchestra seats and distributed them to local residents who could not afford orchestra seats) to Newark's only Jewish mayor, Meyer Ellenstein. Residents also have vivid memories of candy butchers, as they were called, who hawked candy up and down the aisles during the performances, and of the rattling of scenery when doors slammed behind youngsters sneaking in to enjoy a show on a hot summer day.
For more information about the exhibition, please contact Linda Forgosh at 973-929-2994, or
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(c) 2005 TheJewish Historical Society of MetroWest, All Rights Reserved
The Jewish Historical Society received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State .