David Kessler (actor)

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David Kessler (1863?-1920) was a prominent actor in the first great era of Yiddish theater. As a star Yiddish dramatic performer in New York City, he was the first leading man in Yiddish theater to dispense with incidental music.

Born and raised in Chişinău (then part of Imperial Russia, now capital of independent Moldova), as an adolescent he improvised chaotic amateur plays in the stable of his father's inn, using fragments of what he had seen in the performances of Broder singers. A medical student named Geller apparently wrote him a more structured play, Mechtze the Matchmaker, which he and his friends put on.

At 16, he tried out for Israel Rosenberg's theater troupe when they passed through town for a month. He was offered a position as an extra, but his father forbade him to go on the road. Three years later he joined a different small travelling troupe, and spent three years travelling through Europe with that troupe, first in Russia and then in Romania. In 1886, he came to the United States.

In one of the first Yiddish-language productions of Shakespeare, he played the title role in Othello, opposite Jacob Adler's Iago. He was responsible for bringing Bertha Kalich to America.


  • —, "David Kessler Dies; Noted Yiddish Actor; Stricken While Acting Role in a Tolstoy Play, His Death Follows an Operation", New York Times May 15, 1920, 15.
  • Adler, Jacob, A Life on the Stage: A Memoir, translated and with commentary by Lulla Rosenfeld, Knopf, New York, 1999, ISBN 0679413510. 124-126 (commentary), 275 (commentary).