Zypora Spaisman, the renowned Yiddish stage actress long associated with the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre as its onetime executive producer, died May 19 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, according to colleagues.
Ms. Spaisman, who was thought to be in her late 80s, had a brain hemorrhage that led to a rapid decline during an approximate two-month hospital stay.
A funeral was planned for noon May 22 at the Plaza Memorial Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue at 91st Street, New York City.
Mrs. Spaisman's position as executive producer of the world's oldest continuing Yiddish-language theatre (87 years and counting) was eliminated in 1998 when the board sought to modernize programming of the Manhattan-based troupe. Eleanor Reissa and Zalmen Mlotek were named co-artistic directors, and Mrs. Spaisman left the company acrimoniously, the New York Times reported in 2000. She started a new troupe, Yiddish Public Theatre.
The Times indicated Mrs. Spaisman wanted to stick with the tried and true Yiddish classics while Reissa and Mlotek wanted to offer new works and a fresh perspective to lure new audiences and ensure the future of the Folksbiene (or People's Stage). "My heart was bleeding," Mrs. Spaisman told the Times in 2000. "They say I retired. I never retired."
Mrs. Spaisman told the paper, "I have a message in my life. To keep Yiddish alive; you're not allowed to throw it away. To go to the library, to take off the dust, to take the classics down. Not to let them die. To bring them back to light and not to forget. Because we have great plays, beautiful plays to show."
Mrs. Spaisman was born in Lublin, Poland, and for many years was a midwife, both in Europe and on the Lower East Side. She came to the United States and began acting at Folksbiene some 40 years ago and played countless roles in New York's Yiddish theatre. In 1989, she played the rabbi's wife in the Paul Mazursky film, "Enemies: A Love Story," and was seen in the Michael J. Fox picture, "The Hard Way."
She received the Obie and a Drama Desk Award for her work as the mother in Sholom Aleichem's Stempenyu. Mrs. Spaisman is predeceased by husband Joseph Spaisman.