Between Two Worlds—
The Dybbuk at 100

June 2020–November 2020
Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Romeo and Juliet meets The Exorcist is the way that one critic described the play’s theme of star-crossed lovers and spirit possession that has had extraordinary emotional and trans-generational pull for a century.

The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds (1918) by S. An-sky is the most influential secular Jewish-themed play in the history of Jewish and international theater, with over 100 productions in Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Polish, English, Ukrainian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Czech, Serbian, French, and Japanese, on five continents, since its first performance in Warsaw, Poland, in 1920.

The Dybbuk has been performed, adapted, and reinterpreted in multiple media—fiction, dance, film, puppetry, chamber, symphonic, and opera productions—from the 1920s through the present day—by artists including Tony Kushner, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Ofer Ben-Amots, and the Coen Brothers.

• 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the first production of The Dybbuk. Our programs will explore the play’s significance over the past 100 years, along with the life and influence of its author, S. An-sky (1863-1920).

• An-sky was the first Russian Jewish ethnographer, whose team of Russian scholars collected thousands of folk songs, stories, legends, mysteries, and photographs from Hasidic communities in the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe during World War I, some of the most dramatic of which he used in his play.

• There are few pre-modern cultures that do not have tales of spirit possession. The heroine and hero of the play, Leah and Hannan, are betrothed before they are born by two religious scholars who part ways. Hannan’s father dies during his childhood, but Hannan finds a surrogate in Leah’s wealthy father. Leah’s father, however, betroths his daughter to the son of the wealthiest man in his shtetl. When Leah rebels and invites her now deceased lover to her wedding, he takes possession of her. She chooses death over marriage and patriarchy, promising her lover they will ascend to heaven and live together in eternity.

• At a 1910 dinner in St. Petersburg, given in his honor, An-sky spoke of himself as a “man living between two worlds” (the subtitle of his play). His statement explains why The Dybbuk has resonated with populations around the world. It is not only a metaphor for the Jewish diasporic experience, but also for the experiences of millions of immigrants and refugees world-wide who have lived on the fringes of their societies, sometimes tolerated, sometimes persecuted, often between two worlds, never fully at home in either one.

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Background photo copyright:
National Center for Jewish Film.