Sunday 24 July 2016


            He was known by the name Sonye Badkhn (Sonye the wedding entertainer), born in Bialystok, Russian Poland, to very poor parents who, out of fear for the evil eye, called their only son Sonye [i.e., Sonia].  He studied in a Talmud Torah and in a Russian public school.  At age fourteen he became a private tutor and gave lessons in Yiddish, Russian, German, and arithmetic, and thus enabled himself and his widowed mother to subsist.  According to the story of the Vilna wedding entertainer, Y. Zizmor, in Pinkes (Records [edited by Zalmen Reyzen, Vilna, 1922]), he was to have been a women’s shoemaker in his youth.  At age seventeen, when the “kidnappers” (for the tsar’s army who took youths off for long-term service in the Russian army) wanted to take him away for to be a soldier, he ran off to Odessa, and by chance he heard the Gradners singing there and began writing his own little poems to sing with melodies which he picked himself.  When Goldfaden came to Odessa, he invited Zadrunski to accompany him with his troupe to Bucharest, but because of passport difficulties Zadrunski had to remain in Odessa where he assembled a group of folksingers and traveled with them through Russia.  He returned to Bialystrok in 1890 and organized a Purim play entitled “Shimshn hagiber” (Samson the strong man); he went on to become a wedding entertainer and with the course of time became popular as Sonye Badkhn or Sonye from Bialystok.  In 1904 he came to the United States, and not wanting to continue working as an entertainer, he opened a restaurant in New York.  During a visit to Poland in 1928, he became ill on the road from Bialystok to Warsaw, and died in a Warsaw hospital.  He wrote dozens of Yiddish songs on themes of the time, which were for many years sung as folksongs.  From his booklets which were published in Bialystok and Warsaw over the years from 1890 to 1904, several of them have reached us under the general title Der amuzyerer (The entertainer) (Warsaw, 1890, 1902, 1903), each 32 pp.  In the jubilee volume of Byalistoker shtime (Voice of Bialystok) (New York, 1923), he published a series of songs entitled “Der ligner” (The liar).  “Sonye Badkhn was a direct successor to Elyokim Zunzer and, although his songs and satirical verse were weaker than Zunzer’s and Zbarzher’s, he was nonetheless an artist in rendering various genres that he would even improvise” (A. Litvin, in Tog [Day] in New York, May 4, 1929).  He was known as well for a number of one-act plays that he staged himself with innovative mimicry and humor, such as: Der karger bokher (The stingy lad), Der kleynshtetldiker khosn (The bridegroom from a small town), Di agune zukht ir man (The deserted wife searches for her husband), and Fun vigl bizn gribl (From the cradle to the grave), among others.

Sources: Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidish teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1, pp. 139-40 (with a bibliography); Y. Vayntroyb, in Byalistoker shtime (New York) (1923); Y. Lifshits, in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive for the history of Yiddish theater and drama), vol. 1 (Vilna and New York: YIVO, 1930), pp. 71-73; D. Klementinovski, in Byalistoker shtime (March-April 1948).
Yankev Kohen and Khayim Leyb Fuks

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