Mina Bern, Veteran of New York's Yiddish Theatre, Dies

Obituaries   Mina Bern, Veteran of New York's Yiddish Theatre, Dies
Mina Bern, one of the last living links to the once-thriving New York Yiddish theatre scene, died Jan. 10. Cagey about her age, she claimed to be 90 for the last several years of her life. The New York Times listed her age at 98.

Ms. Bern had already gained stardom as an actress and singer in Lodz, in her native Poland, when she was relocated to a displaced persons camp in Uganda, Africa after World War II. She then made her mark in Israel at the time of its founding, before relocating to New York in 1949. The Yiddish theatre was already in decline by that time, but some theatres and shows still lined the "Yiddish Rialto," i.e. Second Avenue from Houston to 14th Street on what was then called the Lower East Side.

She appeared on Broadway three times in the late '60s and early '70s, each time both acting and directing, in Let's Sing Yiddish (1966), Sing, Israel, Sing (1967) and Light, Lively and Yiddish (1970). The already limited audience for Yiddish theatre was dwindling. Combined, the productions ran roughly 200 performances. Sing, Israel, Sing was initially performed solely in Yiddish, before performances were suspended while an English translation was written. The English version then ran for a single week. Ms. Bern appeared with her husband Ben Bonus in all three shows. The two operated a theatre on Second Avenue for a few years in the 1960s.

She returned to Broadway in the short-lived 1990 revue Those Were the Days, a fond look back at the days of the Yiddish theatre. Her co-star was Bruce Adler, the son of Yiddish performers.

Mina Bern won an Obie Award in 1999 for Sustained Excellence, a response to her work in The Folksbiene's recent production of Sweet Dreams. In her later years, Folksbiene, the last Yiddish-language theatre in America, became her artistic home. The following year, she appeared in the Folksbiene production of An American Family, and in 2002 she acted in the company's Yentl.

Mina Bern received a lifetime achievement award from Governor George E. Pataki at a celebration of Jewish Heritage at Hunter College in 2002. Her film credits include "Avalon," "Crossing Delancey," "Little Odessa," "I'm Not Rappaport," "Celebrity," "It Could Happen to You" and "Flawless" with Robert De Niro.

Her last stage appearance was in May 2005, when Ms. Bern performed in her one-woman stage memoir, Mina Bern: A Life on the Stage, A Personal Memoir Told in Song and Story at the JCC in Manhattan, under the auspices of The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene.

She is survived by her daughter, Renya Pearlman of Israel, from her first marriage. She also leaves two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

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