MOYSHE RIKHTER (May 1, 1871-April 7, 1939)
He was a playwright, born in Yanov (Janów), near Lemberg. He was educated by his Hassidic grandfather in Warsaw and studied in yeshiva. For a certain period of time, he directed a theatrical troupe in Galicia. In 1908 he settled in New York. His literary work began with Ruvn-Osher (Reuven-Asher) Broydes’s weeklies Karmel (Garden-land) and Veker (Alarm). In 1895 he was editing the Zionist weekly Haivri (The Jew) in Lemberg, and from 1904 he was a member of the editorial board of Lemberger tageblat (Lemberg daily newspaper). At the same time, he was editing the Zionist weekly Di varhayt (The truth) and other serials. He contributed to a variety of American Yiddish serial publications, among them: Y. Fefer’s Idishes vokhenblat (Jewish daily newspaper), Kundes (Prankster), Der fihrer (The leader), and mainly to Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper), Varhayt, and Dos folksblat (The people’s newspaper) for which he also served as editor. He also made a name for himself as a playwright for the Yiddish theater. In 1891 he published the drama Akeydes yitskhok (The binding of Isaac) which was not performed. In 1897 his historical operetta, Kheyrem rabeynu gershom (The ban on our rabbi Gershom), was staged, as was in 1900 the play Reb hertsele meyukhes (Mr. Hertsele, the man of great pedigree) which, according to Sholem Perlmuter, “for many years assumed the place of honor on Yiddish stages.” From that point forward, he wrote some forty plays drawn from Jewish life in Galicia and America, which excelled in their simplicity, folkish quality, and naturalness. His published plays include: Reb hertsele meyukhes, oder yekele bal-agole (Mr. Hertsele, the man of great pedigree, or Yekele the wagon driver) (Lemberg: Munk et Roth, 1903), 57 pp., later editions (Lemberg, 1905/1906; Warsaw: Opera, 1920s); Sholem bayes, oder layden un eyferzukht (Domestic peace, or pain and jealousy) (Lemberg, 1905), 69 pp., later edition (Lemberg, 1907); Moyshe khayet als gemaynderath (Moses the tailor at the town council) (Lemberg, 1907), 63 pp.; Pakhed (Fear), in Folksblat (New York) (May-June 1910); Tsu shpet (Too fast) (Lemberg-New York: Oskar Shrek un Komp., 1914), 73 pp.; Shklafen-hendler (Slaver) (Lemberg-New York, 1914), 74 pp.; Koyekh haave (The power of love) (Lemberg-New York, 1914); Liebende hertser (Loving hearts) (Lemberg-New York, 1914). His unpublished plays include: Baym untergang (At the downfall), Milkhome karbones (War victims), Ir ervakhung (Her awakening), Der fardakht (The suspect), Di tsvey shvigers (The two mothers-in-law), In der nayer velt (In the new world), Di tsvey khasanim (The two grooms), A froys flikht (A woman’s duty), Vi mener lebn (How men live), A kale tsum farkoyfn (A bride for sale), Dos importirte vaybl (The imported wife), Der freylekher khazn (The happy cantor), Far vos meydlekh antloyfn fun der heym (Why girls run away from home), Di hoykhe fenster (The high window) of 1927 (which may have been staged under the title Di oyfgekumene negidim [The newly rich]), Der groyser aristokrat (The great aristocrat) of 1934, Goldenes khasene (Golden wedding), and Zayn froys fargangenheyt (His wife’s past). Zalmen Reyzen adds: Tsvey kuzines (Two cousins), A vayb fun yener velt (A wife from the other world), and Ikh lib dikh (I love you). B. Gorin adds: Drayfus (Dreyfus) and Yugnd zind (Youth sin). Perlmuter adds: Khurbn beys sheni (The destruction of the Second Temple) and one more play. Unpublished plays that may be found in the YIVO archives would include: Moyshe rabeynu (Moses, our leader) and by Rikhter’s son, Di shtume kale (The silent bride), two one-act plays, and a play without a title. He died in New York.
“He may not have had any [high] literary plays,” wrote Yankev Botoshanski, “but…he did have a few that were far from trash…folkish in language, personal in tone and thought. In his plays he fought against pedigree, against falsehood, for sincerity and purity.” “Like other playwrights of his day,” noted Sholem Perlmuter, “he helped build and develop the Yiddish theater—initially in Galicia and later in America.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 4 (New York, 1963); Yanos Turkov, Farloshene shtern (Extinguished stars) (Buenos Aires, 1953), pp. 241-42; Yankev Mestel, 70 yor teater-repertuar (Seventy years of theater repertoire) (New York, 1954), see index; Ezra Lahad, in Folksblat (Tel Aviv) (April 3, 1961).