A cultural anchor for the city’s Jewish community

Ben as "Der Kishef-makher" (the magician) in Avram Goldfaden's play of the same name.

In the 1930’s, when Gailing learned that Boston didn’t have a resident Yiddish theatre troupe, he and his wife Frieda decided to re-locate. For well over forty years, Gailing staged Yiddish productions at the city’s Franklin Park Theatre, Grand Opera House and John Hancock Hall. Drawing on skills he had picked up in the 1920s, as a regular broadcaster on New York’s WABC and WEVD, he launched a weekly Yiddish radio show that became a cultural anchor for the city’s Jewish community for multiple generations. It featured live skits, musical interludes, readings from Gailing’s weekly Yiddish Forverts’ humor column, “Git a Shmeykhl” (give a smile), and above all “gramen,” running commentary on current events, celebrity gossip, history, politics, and anything else that came into his head, all delivered in impeccable rhyming Yiddish.


I was blessed with the opportunity to work closely with Gailing during his final fifteen years, producing his radio show and learning the Yiddish theatre musical repertoire from one of its masters. This past fall, in preparation for an exhibit to be housed in our “Discovery” gallery, one of our interns, Nathaniel Otting, spent countless hours cataloging Gailing’s music, scripts, photos, recordings, and hundreds of pages of handwritten “gramen.” On Sunday, April 19th at 3 PM, many of these artifacts will come to life in a presentation at Boston’s wonderful new Jewish cultural center, the Vilna Shul (run by Rachel Cylus, one of our former summer interns!). My lecture, entitled “Ben Gailing, Boston’s Freylekher Kabtsn" will celebrate the enduring legacy of this extraordinary hero of America’s Yiddish airwaves – a legacy that the Discovery Project will bring to life for generations to come.


The Vilna Shul is located at 18 Phillips St., Boston; for more information on the lecture, visit www.vilnashul.com or contact Rachel Cylus at 617 532 2324 or Rachel@vilnashul.org.

January 11, 2010