Berl Broder

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Berl Broder (1817–1868), born Berl Margulis, was a Ukrainian Jew born in Podkamen,[1] the most famous of the Broder singers (19th century Jewish singers comparable to the troubadours or Minnesänger) and reputed the first to be both a singer and an actor.[2] His nickname is the origin of the term Broder singer.[3] Thirty of his songs survive; of these, 24 are in the form of dialogues, usually between craftsmen such as tailors or shoemakers; his songs are seen as a precursor to Yiddish theater.[2]

His childhood was taken up with religious studies at home, until his father's death when he was 16. A handsome, bright young man with a good voice, he taught himself the violin. He worked briefly as a brushmaker; his co-workers became his first audience, calling him "Berl der vertlzoger"[1] - a man who always had a rhyme or a proverb.[2] It was after he married, at the age of 25, that his predilection towards writing and singing emerged.[1]

From some time in his late teens or early twenties, he headed on the road as an itinerant performer, along with two other singers, one of whom was also a tailor who made costumes for the troupe. It is believed that many of his songs were improvised on the spot; only thirty survive in written form.[2] In 1857, when economic crisis hit Brody, he created the Broder-singer troupe and left for Russia. His first book of poetry was published in 1860 in Pressburg, the second in Lemberg, and the third (1882) in Warsaw. He composed a tremendous number of songs and couplets which were never published, and would challenge his partners and competitors to rhyming duels, himself generally emerging the victor.[4]

After leaving Brody, he never settled in any one place; he was also known as a heavy drinker. He lived his last years in poverty. Zalmen Zylbercweig cites conflicting accounts of his last years: his son claimed he died in 1868 in Carlsbad, while a contemporary claimed he died in 1888 in Pliyeshtsh (Ploieşti, Romania), a small town near Bucharest.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Dray doyres̀: lider fun Berl Broder (Margulies), feliṭonen fun Yom Hatsyoni (Yitsḥaḳ Margulies), poemen un lider fun Ber Margulies (1957)
  2. ^ a b c d Bercovici 1998.
  3. ^ Roskies 1999, p. 94.
  4. ^ a b Zalmen Zylbercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn teater, Book one, 221-227


  • Bercovici, Israil, O sută de ani de teatru evreiesc în România ("One hundred years of Yiddish/Jewish theater in Romania"), 2nd Romanian-language edition, revised and augmented by Constantin Măciucă. Editura Integral (an imprint of Editurile Universala), Bucharest (1998), pages 31–36. ISBN 973-98272-2-5. See the article on the author for further publication information.
  • Roskies, David G., The Jewish Search for a Usable Past, Indiana University Press (1999), ISBN 0-253-33505-1. p. 94–95.