Segal Centre presents
The Great Divide in Yiddish

Play captures the tragedy and significance of the 1911 Triangle Fire

By Byron Toben

July 3,  2024

What a powerful play! The Great Divide, written in English by Alix Sobler in 2016, gains even more gravitas with the world premiere translated into Yiddish by Aron Gonshor and Edit Kuper with English and French surtitles and presented by the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre at the Segal Centre studio space from June 23 to 30.

Manhattan’s ten-story Triangle Building contained on its top three floors a shirtwaist factory which employed about 146 sewing machine operators, mostly teenage immigrants at low wages, of which 106 were Jewish, the rest mainly Italian, and a few Irish. Yiddish was the lingua franca of the Jewish girls from Russia, Poland, Austria, Hungary and other Eastern European countries, enabling them to converse and make friends. Strict rules in this sweatshop to prevent theft of clothing material included locked doors and body searches, leading to picket lines urging strikes for better working conditions.

The building was bounded to the south by Greenwich Village’s Washington Square and to the west by Christopher Street. Today, a plaque atop a structure commemorates the horrific event, made worse by the fire escapes having collapsed and, as with the World Trade Center in 2001, some workers leaping to their deaths.

The Great Divide

Some trivia notes

Washington Square is built over an earlier graveyard.

The diagonal Christopher Street is where the 1969 Stonewall protest against police raids on gays took place.

In most of human history, people knew who made their clothes. With the advent of the sewing machine, it became impersonal, leading to factories. This point was mentioned by costume designer Sabrina Miller at the Sunday at the Segal preceding this show.

I found one of the most touching moments in the show was when the ghost of one of the deceased girls dreams that she had survived and, with her husband and children and grandchildren, witnessed the birth of Israel in 1948 and had moved there to a place where Jews could live in peace unlike the Russia she had escaped from, where people spit on the ground every time the word Jew was mentioned.

The excellent cast, directed by Trevor Barrette, consisted of five who were:

Ella Deutsch as Rosa
Caroline Gauthier as Sadie, Sophie, Clara, and others
Tessa Lupkowski as Manya, and others
Bram Lackman as Minkoff, Jacob, Amram, and others
David Peterman as Max, Samuel, and others

Credit is also due to Yiddish diction coaches Rivka Augenfeld, Bronna Levy and Sam Stein.

Images: Leslie Schachter

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Other articles from Byron Toben
Other recent articles

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since-terminated websites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner, and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

There are no comments

Add yours