The Polish magazine Wysokie Obcasy dubbed Gołda Tencer 'a woman who changes the world for the better'. She is an actress, singer, director, an unshaken promoter of Yiddish language, and an activist in the field of culture.
The First Steps
She was born on 2nd August, 1949 in Łódź into a family of World War II survivors: Szmul Tencer and Sonia Tencer. She took her first steps in dramatic theatre on Łódź's stages when she was still a child (in the Powszechny Theatre). As she said in an interview with Sylwia Laskowska, she always loved theatre – she performed in all the stagings of the Łódź Perec School and she always took the roles of princesses in small shows. Since her youth, she dreamt of joining the Jewish Theatre, which had enchanted her with the shows it brought to her hometown.
From Łódź to Warsaw
Tencer's dream came true. In 1969, she moved to Warsaw and two years later she graduated from the Jewish Theatre's Actor's Study. Even before she graduated, she got a role in Green Fields directed in 1969 by Szymon Szurmiej – the study's founder and the Jewish Theatre's long-standing director. She also got a part in Chewel Buzgan's (who was artistic director of the Jewish Theatre at the time) staging of Dibbuk, based on S. An-sky's text. Since 1971, she acted in dozens of the theatre's performances and even directed some of them herself or in a directorial duet with Szymon Szurmiej. Among them were: Tewje Mleczarzu (editor's translation: Tevye the Dairyman), Poszukiwacze Złota (Gold Diggers), Wielka Wygrana (the Great Victory, based on Sholem Aleichem’s text), Zmierzch (Twilight, based on Isaac Babel's text) and an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Tencer said that all her roles are important because 'they are all like her children'.
Warsaw's Jewish Theatre, led by Gołda Tencer since 2015, stages classical Yiddish texts (for example Itzik Manger's and Sholem Aleichem's). It is the only Polish theatre (and one of just two in Europe) which stages plays in the language of the Ashkenazi Jews. As Tencer said in an interview for Wirtualna Polska:
The reception of those plays is very warm. Nowadays, they are truly unique. For people, especially young people hearing this language for the first time – a language spoken by a third of Warsaw's citizens prior to the War – Yiddish has an extraordinary sound. It is the language of a Jewish mother, a beautiful language of Jewish lullabies.
In 2015, the artist performed in Łukasz Chotkowski's adaptation of Dibbuk which was directed by Maja Kleczewska (laureate of the Silver Lion prize at the Biennale in Venice). In one interview, Tencer commented on offering the esteemed director a job in the Jewish Theatre:
When I invited Maja Kleczewska to direct Dibbuk a few years ago, I told her: 'Maja, I would really like to breathe some fresh air into the theatre, but without making a draught'.
In Kleczewska's play, based on Ansky's Jewish drama classic, Tencer played the part of one of the incarnations of Lea. The play opened the Jewish Theatre's 65th commemorative season. Polish drama theatre critic Witold Mrozek called it 'one of Kleczewska's best works'. Teatru Żydowskiego i przez Witolda Mrozka został nazwany "jednym z najlepszych spektakli Kleczewskiej".
In an article for the teatralny.pl web portal, Łukasz Drewniak noticed a sentimental nod to Tencer's artistic path in her performance. Gołda Tencer in the role of Lea was an embodiment of a memory for him:
Tencer is authentically moving when she enters the scene, clad in black, with a wedding gown attached at the front, and recites the verses in Yiddish. In her plaintive voice which changes into melodeclamation and has a hint of the old actor school in it, there is a nostalgia for the world of the past and a longing after the roles she will never play again.
When Tencer took over the Jewish Theatre, the scene extended its formula and became more inviting towards young creators and mainstream directors. Besides Kleczewska, among people who worked there were: Anna Smolar and Michał Buszewicz (Jewish Actors and A Few Foreign Words in Polish), Jędrzej Piaskowski (Wiera Gran) and Wiktor Rubin together with Jolanta Janiczak (Here You Go, a show based on Anda Rottenberg's autobiographical novel). 'We try to give the audience a choice between the classics, tradition and contemporary works', Tencer declared in an interview with Ewa Uniejewska.
Shalom Foundation and Singer's Warsaw
The first edition of the Jewish Culture Festival Singer's Warsaw took place in 2004 – on the 100th birthday of the Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. The event's mission is to 'recreate the pre-war ambience of the surroundings of Próżna Street and Grzybowski SquarePlatz and to reveal the forgotten world of Polish Jews'. The festival's programme is filled with film screenings, drama performances, and Klezmer music concerts, with workshops dedicated to Jewish paper-cutting, ceramics and Hebrew calligraphy and with discussions and lectures. Singer's Warsaw is visited by creators and guest from abroad. So far, these have included Nigel Kennedy, Benzion Miller, David Krakauer, and the New York-based band The Klezmatics. The Shalom Foundation, founded by Tencer in 1988, organises the festival. Its main goal is to 'save the rich Yiddish cultural heritage from being forgotten'. The foundation runs a wide promotional and didactic activity, organizes workshops and seminars. One of the foundation's biggest achievements so far was the And I Still See Their Faces – Photography of Polish Jews exhibition which was followed by a photography album. The project was based on over 9 thousand pictures sent in 1994 in response to Gołda Tencer's open call. It was presented in over 49 cities worldwide – including Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Toronto, New York, Paris, London, and Barcelona.
The Shalom Foundation organises annual meetings in front of the commemorative plaque placed in Warsaw's Gdański Station which commemorates the events of March 1968 and the eviction of Polish Jews by the authorities of the communist regime in Poland. The plaque, funded by the foundation, contains a quote by Henryk Grynberg: 'Here they left behind more than they had'.
The Gdańsk Station plaque symbolises pain – the unquenchable pain of parting.
On the 50th anniversary of the events, the Jewish Theatre's actors, together with dozens of other artists, performed in an open-air show titled Spakowani, Czyli Skrócona Historia O Tym, Kto Czego Nie Zabrał (Packed: a Shortened Story about the Things They Left Behind) directed by Agata Duda-Gracz. Another part of the important anniversary's programme was a monodrama titled Ida Kamińska, written and directed by Tencer and starring Joanna Szczepkowska. In one of the interviews conducted at the time of the premiere, the artist said that she always had Ida Kamińska, the theatre's patron, in her memory.
Ida Kamińska was a wonderful actor and a good human being. We met right after her departure from Poland. She laid the groundwork for the post-war Jewish culture in Poland. (…] She was a fascinating person, she directed and translated plays. She's also the only Polish actress to be nominated for an Oscar.
Outside of the Theatre
In her artistic oeuvre, Tencer also has an array of roles in films and television series: she appeared in Wojciech Jerzy Has' Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass and in Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Austeria, and also in the television versions of the plays produced by the Jewish Theatre in 1979: Komedianci (Comedians), Dibbuk (directed by Stefan Szlachtycz) and Jerzy Gruza's Gwiazdy na Dachu (Stars on the Roof). She played a part in the 1999 Dibbuk adaptation directed for the Television Theatre by Agnieszka Holland. Tencer also prepared the text, co-directed, and performed in Kamienica na Nalewkach: Czyli Szlagiery Żydowskiej Ulicy (Nalewka Tenement House – Hits from the Jewish Streets) which was also adapted for television in 2001.
In 1988, she released an album titled Miasteczko Bełz (Bełz Town) with her renditions of Jewish songs. One year before that, she performed with Krzysztof Kolberger in a television production under the same name which was directed by Barbara Borys-Damięcka.
In 1984, the artist moved to the United States after being awarded a stipend for her artistic achievements. After it was published, she went on tour and visited East Germany, Israel, the United States, and the Netherlands, among others.
Warsaw Jewish Theatre
Awards and honourable mentions
In 2006, Tencer received a Distinguished Medal for Tolerance – an award granted by the 'Tolerance' Ecumenical Foundation since 1998 for people with outstanding achievements in the field of promoting tolerance and respect, especially towards religious, national and cultural minorities. In 2009, Tencer received the Gloria Artis Gold Medal for Merit to Culture, and in 2011, the Order of Polonia Restituta Commander's Cross for promoting Jewish culture and for her achievements in creative and artistic work. The actress also received the Golden Lyre – an award granted in Israel for achievements in the field of promoting Jewish culture. The year 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Gołda Tencer's artistic work.
Sources: e-teatr.pl, teatr-zydowski.art.pl, mkidn.gov.pl, teatralny.pl, wp.pl, wikipedia.org, filmpolski.pl; compiled by Marcelina Obarska, Aug 2018, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Sep 2018