Chayale (or Khayele) Grober (1905-1964) was an actress, theatre director, and acting teacher who left a distinct mark on Montreal’s theatre scene. Of Russian origin, she trained with the famous Russian actor and director Yevgeny Vakhtangov at the Stanislavsky School in Moscow. She joined the Hebrew-language theatre troupe Habimah and participated in its North American tour, which allowed her to visit Montreal for the first time in 1930. An acclaimed performer, she would continue to travel the world for several years.
While Yiddish theatre enjoyed a golden age in North America in the 1920s, it saw many of its venues close during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. In Canada, restrictions on Jewish immigration slowed the growth of the country’s Jewish community. Developments such as these, coupled with the linguistic assimilation of the descendants of Yiddish-speaking immigrants, represented a threat to Yiddish theatre. It persisted, however, thanks to the efforts of amateur troupes and the major New York theatre companies. It was in this context that Chayale Grober settled in Montreal in 1939 and founded the YTEG (Yidishe Teater Grupe or Yiddish Theatre Group). In her Bleury Street studio, she produced plays and taught theatre to young Jewish Montrealers using the Stanislavsky method. A number of influential artists supported her in this venture, including the painter Alexandre Bercovitch and the dancer John Erskine-Jones. YTEG’s successful shows included its 1941 production of Tshvishen Tsvey Berg (Between Two Mountains) by I. L. Peretz.
Grober directed other theatre companies as well, including the Habimah Ensemble, which staged a popular retrospective of the work of Sholom Aleïchem in the 1950s, and the Hillel Players of the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation. Beginning in 1959, she gradually withdrew from the arts—a gesture that reflected the general sense of fatigue in the Yiddish theatre community at this time, shortly prior to the arrival of the acclaimed actress, playwright and director Dora Wasserman. In Montreal, Chayale Grober was a champion of Yiddish culture who gave local productions precedence over the popular touring productions from New York. Through her dynamic and devoted teaching, she also worked to transmit this theatrical culture to younger generations.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Chantel Ringeut.
Larrue, Jean-Marc. Le théâtre yiddish à Montréal. Montréal: Éditions Jeu, 1996.
Margolis, Rebecca. "Culture in Motion: Yiddish in Canadian Jewish Life." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 21. Special Edition – Religion and Popular Culture in Canada. (2009).
Rome, David. Les pierres qui parlent : deux cents ans d'enracinement de la communauté juive au Québec., Sillery: Éditions du Septentrion,1992.
Zatzman, Belarie. "Yiddish Theatre in Montreal (Review Essay).” Canadian Jewish Studies / Études juives canadiennes 6 (1998): 89-97.
*Images courtesy of Jewish Public Library Archives.