The Yiddish Book Center's
Wexler Oral History Project
A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.
Arthur Allan Seidelman's Oral History
Arthur Allan Seidelman, Emmy award-winning director and nephew of Yiddish performers Isidore and Jennie Cashier, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Those of his Latvian and Russian relatives who did not emigrate to America during the early twentieth century were murdered in the Holocaust. Once in America, his father's sister Jennie became involved in theater and had a club act with Molly Picon for a time. She was married to Isidore Cashier who became a leading actor in the Yiddish Art Theater. Arthur grew up in a kosher home, attending kheyder (traditional religious school) and observing Shabbos and all the Jewish holidays. He was surrounded by Yiddish speakers in a tenement apartment in a "rough" South Bronx neighborhood, which was difficult for an observant Jewish boy. Arthur reminisces about going to the theater with his aunt and uncle and to their parties attended by stars of the Yiddish stage. He talks about the spirit, politics and huge influence of the Yiddish theater and of the Group Theater. The realism and social relevance associated with actors such as John Garfield, acting teachers such as Lee Strasberg and plays such as "Awake and Sing" and "Waiting for Lefty" still resonate today. He talks about the McCarthy era and the blacklist which destroyed the careers and lives of many idealistic and talented actors and directors. He believes that theater has always been associated with outliers and subversive ideas. Arthur describes his first experience directing "The Glass Menagerie" in college and the feeling of fulfillment when he knew that he had created an unforgettable moment on that stage. He remembers how becoming aware of the horrors of the Holocaust influenced his desire to make meaningful theater. For instance, the film that he was working on at the time of this interview focused on Mexican refugees; their stories are no different than those of Jewish refugees of an earlier era. Near the end of the interview, Arthur talks about Israel's unfortunate decision to divorce itself from the beautiful, expressive Yiddish language in order to distance itself from memories and history of Eastern Europe and Jewish life in the shtetl.
This interview was conducted in English.
Arthur Allan Seidelman was born in New York City in 1937.