Memorial Prayer: Sholem Aleichem in Russian

First staged in 1989, Ponminalnaia molitva (“Memorial Prayer”) is a Russian-language adaption of Sholem Aleichem’s Teyve stories written by celebrated Russian Jewish playwright Grigori Gorin. Not a musical, the tone of the play is much darker than Fiddler or other theatrical adaptations of Sholem Aleichem’s work, casting Teyve as a browbeaten Job-like figure for whom life is a series of increasingly difficult trials and tests.

In this context, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is depicted as an exchange at once more intimate and yet much more antagonistic than anything produced for the American stage. Produced during the last years of the Soviet period, the piece reflects how the history of the Holocaust—a taboo subject in Soviet life and memory until then—was only just entering public discourse. The play is frequently staged in cities across the former Soviet Union, particularly (although not exclusively) in places with a significant Jewish population or where the echoes of a formerly vibrant Jewish presence are still felt. In these towns, the play is often produced in late summer as a memorial to the members of the Jewish intelligentsia who were murdered on Stalin’s orders on August 12, 1952. The three-hour production seen in this YouTube video comes from the Anton Chekhov Theatre in Pavlodar, a city in northeastern Kazakhstan.