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Itzik Manger (May 30, 1901 - February 21, 1969) was a prominent Yiddish poet and playwright, a
self-proclaimed folk bard, visionary, and 'master tailor' of the
Manger was born in Czernowitz, Austria-Hungary (later Romania and now
Ukraine) in 1901. His father, Hillel Manger, was a skilled tailor
in love with literature, which he referred to as 'literatoyreh' (a
portmanteau of the Yiddish words literatura and Toyreh). As a
teenager, Manger attended the Kaiser KÃ¶niglicher Dritter
Staats-Gymnasium, where he studied German literature until he was
expelled for pranks and bad behavior. He exchanged this traditional
education for the backstage atmosphere of the Yiddish theatre.
In 1921, Manger began publishing his early poems and ballads in
several new literary journals founded in the aftermath of World War I.
Soon afterwards, he settled in Bucharest and wrote for the local
Yiddish newspapers while giving occasional lectures on Spanish,
Romanian, and Gypsy folklore.
In 1927, Manger came to Warsaw, the spiritual and intellectual center
of Ashkenazi Jewry and "the most inspiring city in Poland." Manger
lived in the capital of the Yiddish cultural world for the next
decade, which became the most productive years of his entire career.
In 1929, Manger published his first book of poetry, Shtern afn dakh
(Stars on the Roof), in Warsaw to critical acclaim. By the following
year, Manger was so well known that he was admitted to the select
Yiddish P.E.N. club, along with Isaac Bashevis, Israel Rabon, and I.
Between 1929 and 1938, Manger took the Warsaw literary world by storm.
He gave frequent readings of his own poetry at the Writers' Club, was
interviewed by all the major Warsaw Yiddish papers, published articles
in the prestigious journal Literarishe Bleter (Literary Pages), issued
his own literary journal called Chosen Words filled with his poetry,
fiction, and artistic manifestos. At the same time, Manger continued
to publish his own works, including a series of modernist poems
inspired by the Oral Torah (Itzik's Midrash, 1935), a dramatic
rewriting of the Purim story (Songs of the Megillah, 1936), a loose
adaptation of Abraham Goldfaden's The Witch of BotoÅŸani (Hotzmakh's
Shpiel, 1937), a series of fictional vignettes on the history of
Yiddish literature (Familiar Portraits, 1938), and three more volumes
of poetry (Lantern in the Wind, 1933; Velvl Zbarzher Writes Letters to
Malkele the Beautiful, 1937; and Twilight in the Mirror, 1937).
Working with Biblical themes
Manger's Itzik's Midrash and Songs of the Megillah deserve special
mention, as they represent his first attempts to re-write old,
familiar material through a modernist lens. In Itzik's Midrash, Manger
presents a modern commentary on the classic Bible stories by
anachronistically placing his characters in contemporary Eastern
Europe. Manger's playful attitude towards the original text is
self-evident; in the introduction he writes, "As I wrote this book,
the rogue's cap of the Yiddish Purim play hovered always before my
eyes."  Inspired by the Purimshpiel genre, which used a traditional
story to mock the norms and expectations of Jewish religious life in
previous centuries, Manger's Midrash radically revises traditional
portrayals of Biblical characters by requiring them to justify their
actions according to modern norms and values. Traditionally valued
characters such as Abraham and Sarah are harshly critiqued, while
underrepresented characters like Hagar and Ishmael are given a voice
In Songs of the Megillah, Manger uses a similar technique to
politicize and de-sacralize the Biblical text read aloud on Purim.
Once again, Manger's introduction classifies the book as "a kind of
mischief-making on the model of Purim players in every age." Like
Itzik's Midrash, Songs of the Megillah is a modern, radical retelling
of the story of Esther set in contemporary Eastern Europe. Manger even
introduces a new character into the narrative: Fastrigosso, Esther's
jilted lover and a member of the Needles and Thread Tailors' Union,
who conspires to assassinate King Ahashverosh in order to win back
Esther's affections. Combined with his 1937 play Hotzmakh's Shpiel,
these three revival texts secured Manger his international reputation
as "the master recloaker of the oldest and the newest literary
[ From Warsaw to Tel Aviv
With widespread anti-Semitism in the highest levels of Polish
government and society, Jewish life in Warsaw became increasingly
dire. Manger decided to leave for Paris in 1938, an exile from his
creative homeland. However, Paris was not safe for long. In 1940,
Manger fled to Marseilles, Tunis, Liverpool, and finally London, where
he became a British citizen and remained unhappily for the next eleven
years. Disillusioned and unproductive, Manger immigrated to Israel
in 1958, where he remained until his death in Tel Aviv in 1969.
Acclaim in Israel and elsewhere
Unlike most other exiled Yiddish writers, Manger was able to achieve
significant success in Israeli literary and theatrical circles. In
1965, Dov Seltzer directed a highly popular production of Manger's
Songs of the Megillah, breaking the Israeli taboo on Yiddish theatre.
Songs of the Megillah was a great success, setting a new record in
Israeli theatre with its more than 400 performances. Prominent members
of Israeli society, including politicians Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and
Teddy Kollek, made highly publicized appearances at the performances.
When he died in 1969, Manger was mourned as an Israeli national poet.
Romanian Jewish playwright Israil Bercovici adapted a collection of
Manger's poems into a two-act stage piece, Mangheriada, which
premiered April 6, 1968 at the Romanian State Jewish Theater in
^ A trickster at heart, Manger was fond of creating fictional
biographies for himself and passing them off as truth. In his most
famous fake biography, submitted to the editors of the "Lexicon of the
Yiddish Theatre", printed as fact, and widely believed, Manger writes
that he was born in Berlin in 1900 and did not learn Yiddish until the
age of fourteen. A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New
York: Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1940), 329.
^ David Roskies and Leonard Wolf, Introduction to Itzik Manger, The
World According to Itzik: Selected Poetry and Prose. Translated and
edited by Leonard Wolf (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002),
^ Manger, The World According to Itzik, xix
^ Itzik Manger, Shriftn in proze (Tel Aviv: Farlag Y.L. Peretz, 1980),
^ Manger, The World According to Itzik, xx. It was around this time
that Manger changed his name from the formal sounding Yitzkhok to the
childlike diminutive Itzik, thus actualizing his self-transformation
from poet to folk bard.
^ Ibid., 3.
^ Manger, The World According to Itzik, 30.
^ David G. Roskies, The Last of the Purim Players: Itzik Manger.
Prooftexts 13 (1993), 232.
^ Manger, The World According to Itzik, xxi.
^ Bercovici, Israil, O sutÄƒ de ani de teatru evreiesc Ã®n RomÃ¢nia
hundred years of Yiddish/Jewish theater in Romania"), 2nd
Romanian-language edition, revised and augmented by Constantin
MÄƒciucÄƒ. Editura Integral (an imprint of Editurile Universala),
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