Stage and screen actor and musical comedy star Mike Burstein has been dreaming for years about appearing on stage with Israel Prize laureate Lia Koenig, but until now their schedules have never allowed for it.
Both are second generation actors who were almost born on stage and who have been acting since childhood, getting their initial start in Yiddish Theater.
New York-born Burstein is the son of Yiddish stage duo Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux, who developed an enormous following among Yiddish theater lovers in the Jewish world.
Koenig was born in Lodz, Poland to actors Joseph Kamien (one of the founders of the Vilna Troupe) and Dinah Koenig. With the outbreak of the Second World War the family fled to the Soviet Union, where Kamien died in 1942. His widow married Yiddish actor Isaac Chavis and, after the war, they relocated to Bucharest in Romania where there was work on the Yiddish stage.
Though both Burstein and Koenig spent the early years of their respective careers performing in Yiddish, each branched out to the wider stage and screen. He has appeared on stage screen and television in Hebrew, Dutch and English and she - following her arrival in Israel some half century ago with her now-late husband, Yiddish writer and theater director Zvi Stolper - built an illustrious career for herself at Habimah and also appeared on screen.
Nonetheless, neither forgot their theatrical roots, and each of them reverts from time to time to the Yiddish Stage.
Inter alia, Koenig appears annually at the Story Tellers Festival at the Givatayim Theater where she regales the audience with Yiddish anecdotes.
Now she and Burstein will spend a week, beginning Sunday October 11, touring the country with a show called "Yiddish on all Sides" (Yiddish fun alle Zeitn) in which they will appear separately and together.
The run begins in Kiryat Motzkin, then Or Akiva, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Raanana and Rehovot.
Burstein was able to take time out from his one-man show "Lansky" based on the book by Robert Rockaway, and Koenig was between productions at Habimah, enabling them to finally appear together.
BURSTEIN AND Koenig have known each other for years, but somehow never managed to share a platform.
Burstein dearly wanted to appear with her in Israel, not only because he spent a large part of his younger years in the country, but also because Israel is one of the few places, he told The Jerusalem Post, where he doesn't have to stop his monologue to give the audience an explanation or translation into English. Though aware that most Yiddish productions in Israel are accompanied by subtitles above the stage, Burstein is confident that most of the people who will come to see the show will not require a translation.
While welcoming the fact that growing numbers of young actors in Israel are turning to the Yiddish Theater, Burstein notes that anyone familiar with the Yiddish stage can hear in their delivery that unlike Koenig and himself, they were not born to Yiddish theater. "We are the natural inheritors of that tradition," he says. "We don't even have to talk to understand each other. It's a special thing for both of us that we can finally appear together. She amazes me because she has that eternally youthful spirit."
Although Yiddish-speaking audiences are waning, Burstein firmly believes that Yiddish theater must be perpetuated for as long as possible, "so that Yiddish doesn't recede into a purely academic language like Latin."