Yiddish theater
Yiddish Theater actress Zypora Spaisman and dancer/actor Felix Fibich in a scene from "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story." (Contributed photo/YIDDISHTHEATRE.NET) Contributed Photo

Only a schmuck wouldn't love this movie.

"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" is just wonderful, the sort of documentary that couldn't have been developed as a fictional piece because no one could have imagined it. In 2007, the movie was on the top-10 list of documentaries for the year on about.com, and it has earned praise on the film festival circuit as well.

Zypora Spaisman, a Polish survivor of the Holocaust, is the focus of the movie that's all about her efforts to keep alive the oldest-running Yiddish theater in the United States. The theater is in New York City, and Spaisman has only a week to raise enough money until it's going to be shut down due to a lack of funds.

The movie was filmed during Hanukkah in the year 2000. It follows Spaisman as she stars in "Green Fields," a Yiddish play that draws only a handful of people to its productions in Manhattan.

(Yiddish theater is a dying art. At one time, 12 Yiddish theaters existed in New York. But as Jewish residents have grown older, the language itself has begun dying out.)

The more positive publicity the play earns in the press, the sparser the audiences grow. The performers use a kind of subtitles because so few people in the already-scanty audience understand the words. One of the actresses learns her lines phonetically because she doesn't speak Yiddish. And now the play is supposed to close on "the last candle of Hanukkah."

In the meantime, the theater's supporters search everywhere they can for financing. And, as if to deal the enterprise an even harsher blow, one of the worst snowstorms in New York City's history strikes the city - and the production as well.

Perhaps even more touching than the survival of the theater is the life of Spaisman, which she tells in various scenes throughout the film. Especially moving is her description of her husband and his death. Not a viewer exists who won't be compelled by her story.

She is the most fascinating character in this true story. She's so passionate that she convinced the Israeli director of the documentary to see his first Yiddish play. Her determination to continue her beloved Yiddish productions is paralleled with her will to keep going as an intelligent, contributing individual." 'Retired' is a death sentence," she says while busily cleaning her kitchen counter.

You won't need to speak a word of Yiddish to understand this beautiful lady's vision.

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