In recent years, Yiddish theater has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence, with Yiddish-language performances wowing audiences in New York, online, and last month in Stockholm.
But perhaps its biggest audience yet came last week, when “Jeopardy!” devoted an entire category to it. The iconic quiz show is seen by an estimated 8.7 million people every night, making it the most-watched syndicated show on the air.
Last week, the contestants were all college professors. It was the show’s first professors tournament, and the host was Mayim Bialik, the Jewish actress and PhD neuroscientist whose regular-season run was just extended as the show figures out how to replace longtime host Alex Trebek, who died last year.
Julie Williams, an English professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, chose the first question in the Yiddish Theater category after it appeared during Double Jeopardy, the show’s second round.
But it was Ed Hashima, a professor of history at American River College in Sacramento, California, who dominated. He correctly responded to four of the five clues, racking up points as he identified one play as the Yiddish “King Lear,” named the Jewish holiday of Purim as being tied to Yiddish theater’s origins, and answered that Marlon Brando’s acting teacher was Stella Adler, who grew up in a family of Yiddish theater royalty.
Hashima also revealed a “Daily Double” in the category, allowing him to select his own wager. A smile broke across his face as Bialik read the clue: “A surprise New York hit in 2018 was a Yiddish-language ‘Fiddler on the Roof’: This song becomes ‘Ben Ikh Bin a Rotshild.’”
The response, of course, is “If I Were a Rich Man,” and Hashima added $2,400 to his already substantial lead. You could almost imagine Trebek humming the song’s memorable theme, but Bialik offered no elaboration or commentary about the clues — unlike when cholent was a “Jeopardy!” question earlier this season and she offered a short history lesson.
One clue stumped all of the contestants, who declined to buzz in. “The play ‘Chantzhe in Amerika’ is about a woman wanting to learn this modern play; ‘How I Learned To’ do it is a non-Yiddish play,” Bialik read.
The correct response: “What is ‘Drive,’” referring to the classic work by Paula Vogel, the Jewish playwright whose passion for Yiddish theater has been a galvanizing force in her recent work.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency