A Tale of Two Museums
Ester Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Collection

Esther-Rachel Kaminska, Yiddish Actor Extraordinaire

RG 8 - ER Kaminska - Baranowicze.jpg


Above, studio portrait of Esther-Rachel Kaminska, Baranowicz, c. 1915. Below, a program from one of her final performances as the cruel and greedy matriarch in the title role in Ettinger's Serkele, c. 1923.
Serkele ERK_EDIT.jpg


Esther-Rachel Kaminska, Yiddish Actor Extraordinaire


Perhaps Esther-Rachel's greatest cultural significance was as a pioneer of literary Yiddish theater. In 1905, for instance, when official restrictions waned, she began to perform a new kind of play from the artistic repertoire championed by the Warsaw-based herald of literary Yiddish, Y. L. Peretz (1852-1915). Kaminska staged dramatic works by the most literary dramatists of her day, including Sholem Aleichem (1859-1915), Jacob Gordin, David Pinsky (1872-1959), and the Polish-Jewish writer-director Mark Arnsteyn (Arnsztejn) (1879-1943). She also performed some of the earliest translations into Yiddish of such writers as Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927), and Henryk Ibsen (1828-1906). 

In 1907, with the collaboration of Arnsteyn, Esther-Rachel's husband, Avrom-Yitskhok Kaminski, founded the Literary Troupe. This was the first company to turn away from the classics of the operetta composer Avrom Goldfaden, who had  laid the theater's cornerstone, and to dedicate itself to the new literary repertoire. The company toured the Russian Empire from 1908 to 1909; its two engagements in St. Petersburg were acclaimed in the Russian liberal press. According to her daughter, Ida, Esther-Rachel eschewed the pathos and posing of many of her contemporaries who were nurtured on the "great repertoire." Instead, she favored acting that was "natural and simple." Performances in the eponymous matriarch roles like Mirele (by Gordin) Serkele (by Ettinger), and Mother Courage (by Bertolt Brecht) led to her canonization by adoring audiences as "Di Mame Ester-Rokhl," the mother of the Yiddish theater.


YIVO owns the compilation of content that is posted on this website, which consists of text, images, and/or audio, and video. However, YIVO does not necessarily own each component of the compilation. Some content is in the public domain and some content is protected by third party rights. It is the user's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in YIVO websites.

The materials on this web site may be used for personal, research and educational purposes only. Publication (including posting on the Internet and online exhibitions) or any other use without prior authorization is prohibited. Please visit https://www.yivo.org/Rights-Reproductions for more information about use of materials from this website.

YIVO has employed due diligence in seeking to identify copyright holders of the materials in this compilation. We invite any copyright owners who are not properly identified to contact us at yivomail@yivo.cjh.org.


“Esther-Rachel Kaminska, Yiddish Actor Extraordinaire ,” YIVO Online Exhibitions, accessed February 29, 2024, https://ataleoftwomuseums.yivo.org/items/show/2930.
Submit a transcription, translation or additional information on the song or the performer