Shmuel Rodensky

Shmuel Rodensky (Hebrew: שמואל רודנסקי, 1902[lower-alpha 1] – 16 July 1989[lower-alpha 2]) was a Russian-born Israeli actor whose stage, film, and television career in Israel and West Germany spanned six decades. He immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1924 and studied drama at the Eretz Israel Theatre in Tel Aviv. After performing with several theatre companies between 1928 and 1948, he joined Habima Theatre in 1949 and became one of its principal players. He was known as "the Israeli Laurence Olivier". In 1968 Rodensky traveled to Hamburg to join the German-language production of Fiddler on the Roof (titled Anatevka), playing the lead role of Tevye the Dairyman. He performed this role more than 1,400 times throughout West Germany and Switzerland. His notable film roles include the lead in the 1968 Israeli film Tevye and His Seven Daughters,[6] Simon Wiesenthal in the 1974 Anglo-German film The Odessa File, and Jethro in the 1974 BBC television miniseries Moses the Lawgiver. He was the recipient of numerous honors in both Israel and West Germany, including the Federal Service Cross from the Federal Republic of Germany and the Israel Prize.

Shmuel Rodensky
Rodensky on the set of
Tevye and His Seven Daughters, 1967
Smorgon, Russia
Died16 July 1989 (age 87)
Tel Aviv, Israel
Years active1928—1988
Known forThe Three Shmuliks and Die Kleine Mentshalach at Habima Theatre
Tevye in Anatevka (German production of Fiddler on the Roof)
Spouse(s)Raya Nura Shein

Early life

Shmuel Rodensky was born in Smorgon, Russia,[lower-alpha 3] in 1902.[2][6] During World War I he fled to Ukraine, but was expelled from the country during the Russian Revolution.[1] He then traveled to Poland, entered Hamburg, Germany, on a forged Polish passport, and finally immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1924.[1][2]

Stage career

In his early years in Mandatory Palestine, Rodensky was employed in draining swamps, field work, and construction.[1][2] He studied at the studio of drama at the Eretz Israel Theatre in Tel Aviv and performed with a number of theatre companies between 1928 and 1948, including the Eretz Israel Theatre, Hakumkum (The Kettle), and Hamatate (The Broom).[2] In 1949 he responded to a newspaper advertisement seeking new performers at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv and became one of that theatre's principal players.[1][6] He was known as "the Israeli Laurence Olivier".[7]

At Habima, Rodensky performed a wide variety of dramatic roles,[2] including Iago in Othello and the cardinal in The Deputy.[1] He also performed satire, as in Ephraim Kishon's 1953 play Yiddishpiel.[8]

Rodensky formed several artistic partnerships. He and another Habima actor named Shmuel, Shmuel Segal, created a Yiddish-speaking comedic team called The Shmuliks;[9] they were later joined by a third Habima actor, Shmuel Atzmon. The Three Shmuliks performed in Israel and abroad.[10][11] In 1985, The Three Shmuliks were part of the Israeli delegation of actors, writers, and public figures invited by the Polish government to the 35th-anniversary celebration of the Yiddish State Theater in Warsaw.[10][12] With Segal and another Habima actor named Goldenberg, Rodensky was also a member of Die Kleine Mentshalach ("The Little People"), a Yiddish-language trio that performed dramatic readings of works by Sholem Aleichem.[11][13] Rodensky formed a third, satirical trio with Jacob Timen and Esther Gamlielit of Hamatate (The Broom Theater).[14]

Tevye the Dairyman

In 1965, Rodensky replaced Bomba Tzur in the role of Tevye the Dairyman in the second year of the Israeli production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, staged at the Godik Theater.[2][15] Rodensky went on to appear in 350 performances in Israel.[16] During a 10–week absence due to illness, Rodensky was replaced by Chaim Topol, launching Topol's own career as Tevye on stage and screen.[17] Rodensky briefly acted in a Yiddish-language production of the musical which was not as successful as the Hebrew-language ones.[18] Rodensky reprised the role of Tevye on screen in the 1968 Israeli film Tevye and His Seven Daughters.[6]

In 1968 Rodensky traveled to Hamburg to join the German-language production of Fiddler on the Roof, titled Anatevka, which premiered on February 1.[16] Rodensky became popular throughout West Germany for his portrayal of Tevye, performing the role more than 1,400 times.[2][19] He also toured with a production in Switzerland.[2] He appeared on the German-language recording of the Hamburg premiere.[20]

On September 4, 1972, the evening before a Palestinian terrorist group infiltrated the Israeli Olympic athletes' quarters during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the Israeli team attended a German-language performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Deutsches Theater in Munich as guests of Rodensky, the lead actor.[21] The Israelis received glasses of wine during the intermission and posed for pictures with Rodensky.[7]

The last play in which Rodensky acted was "The Spine", which premiered on January 10, 1988 at the Habima Theatre. He played the role of Dr. Willy. The production ran for only seven performances and then was closed in deference to Rodensky's illness.[2] Rodensky died the following year.[2]

Film and television

Rodensky first appeared on screen in the 1935 Israeli film Zot Hi Ha'aretz (This is the Land).[6] He was cast as Reb Pinchas in the Israeli film Shnei Kuni Lemel (The Flying Matchmaker), which was the Israeli entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966.[22] Other notable roles included Tevye in the 1968 Israeli film Tevye and His Seven Daughters,[6] Simon Wiesenthal in the 1974 Anglo-German film The Odessa File, and Jethro in the BBC television miniseries Moses the Lawgiver. Rodensky appeared in other film and television roles in West Germany and Switzerland.[6][23][24]

Honors and awards

Rodensky received numerous honors and awards in Israel and West Germany.[2] In 1983 he received the Federal Service Cross from the Federal Republic of Germany,[25] and the Rudolf Küstermeier Prize in Tel Aviv, the latter recognizing his contribution to "the interpretation of Israeli culture in West Germany".[26]

Rodensky was named a Worthy Citizen of Tel Aviv in 1982. He received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 1983 and the Meyer Margalit Prize in 1984.[2]

President of Germany Gustav Heinemann praised Rodensky as "Israel's greatest ambassador of reconciliation".[27]

Personal life

Rodensky met his wife, stage actress Raya Nura Shein, when both were studying at the Eretz Israel Theatre. They married in 1928.[2]

Rodensky died of a heart attack in Tel Aviv on 16 July 1989.[1][27] Notwithstanding his fame, he died impoverished.[27]

In 2001-2002 the Tel Aviv Municipality affixed a memorial plaque to Rodensky's home at 1 Rachel Street as part of its effort to honor artists and intellectuals who had resided in the city.[28]


Year Title Role Notes
1935 Zot Hi Ha'aretz (This is the Land)
1956 Ma'aseh B'Monit (Tel Aviv Taxi) Boss
1963 Rak Ba'Lira (A Pound a Piece)
1964 Sallah Shabati
Ha-Etmol Shel Maher (Tomorrow's Yesterday)
1965 Impossible on Saturday
Shabbat Hamalka (The Sabbath Queen)
1966 Shnei Kuni Lemel (The Flying Matchmaker) Reb Pinchas
1968 Tuviya VeSheva B'notav (Tevye and His Seven Daughters) Tevye
1970 Heintje – Mein bester Freund Aljoscha
1971 Katz V'Carasso (Katz and Carasso) Shmuel Katz
1973 Scorpio Lang
Libero Himself
1974 The Odessa File Simon Wiesenthal
1976 The Sell Out Zafron
1977 Operation Thunderbolt Dr. Weissberg
Hershele Canak
Doda Clara (Aunt Clara) Meir
1978 Der Gehilfe Morris Bober TV movie
1979 Jesus Annas
1986 Alex Holeh Ahavah (Alex is Lovesick) Rabbi (final film role)
Year Title Role Notes
1973 Rückstände Sachs
1974 Moses the Lawgiver Jethro
1981 Silas Bartolin
1985 Levin und Gutman Sammy Levin German miniseries, 11 episodes



Rodensky's recordings include:[5]


  • Shmuel Rodensky Singt Lieder Seiner Heimat In Deutscher Sprache [Shmuel Rodensky Sings Songs of His Homeland in German Language] (1968)
  • Anatevka (Deutsche Originalaufnahme) (Anatevka original German-language recording) (1968)
  • Shmuel Rodensky Liest Satiren Von Ephraim Kishon (Shmuel Rodensky Reads Satires by Ephraim Kishon) (1974)



  1. According to the Munzinger-Archiv, Rodensky did not have a birth certificate and did not know his birthdate or birthplace.[1] Israeli sources list Rodensky's birth year as 1902,[2][3] while German sources give it as 1904[4] or 1906.[1]
  2. Israeli and media sources list his date of death as 18 July 1989.[5]
  3. According to German biographical indices, he was born in Vilnius.[1]


  1. "Shmuel Rodensky". Munzinger. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  2. Lev-Ari, Shimon. "Rodenski, Shmuel". Directory of 100 Years of the Hebrew Theatre (in Hebrew). Tel Aviv University. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  3. "Record View: Rodensky, Shmuel". National Library of Israel. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  4. "Biografie: Shmuel Rodensky" (in German). Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  5. "Shmuel Rodensky Discography". 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  6. Kronish & Safirman 2003, p. 208.
  7. Reeve 2000, p. xiii.
  8. "His Name is Binyumin". Yiddishpiel Theater. 2014. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  9. Goldberg, Yaniv (2012). "Ephraim Kishon's 'Lefi Ratzon' – 'As Much As You Like': The Metamorphosis of a Skit Across Languages and Cultures" (PDF). Israel Journal of Humor Research. 1 (2): 54.
  10. Cashman, Greer Fay (16 February 2016). "Yiddish is Alive and Well in Tel Aviv". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  11. Who's Who in Israel. P. Mamut. 1961. p. 137.
  12. Jewish Telegraphic Agency (11 October 1985). "Polish Gov't. Will Observe 35th Year of Yiddish Theater". The Jewish Floridian. p. 9A.
  13. "March 22". Jewish Currents. 35: 20. 1981.
  14. Shahar, Nathan (1 March 2009). "Esther Gamlielit". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  15. Isenberg 2014, p. 80.
  16. Isenberg 2014, p. 170.
  17. Slater, Robert (6 February 2013). "One More Fiddle for the Road". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  18. Canaan, Don (31 March 2015). "Topol Awarded Israel Prize". Israel Faxx. Archived from the original on 3 September 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018 via HighBeam.
  19. Singer, David (1991). American Jewish Yearbook 1991. 91. American Jewish Committee. p. 422. ISBN 9780827604025.
  20. "Teldec, Polydor on Musical LP Swing". Billboard: 41. 2 March 1968. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  21. Groussard, Serge (1975). The Blood of Israel: The massacre of the Israeli athletes, the Olympics, 1972. W. Morrow. p. 10. ISBN 9780688029104.
  22. Tugend, Tom (18 May 2016). "LAJFF celebrates 50 years of Kuni Lemel". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  23. "DIESE WOCHE IM FERNSEHEN" [This Week on Television]. Der Spiegel (in German). 15 October 1973. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  24. "1968 Newsreels". Das Bundesarchiv. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  25. "Central Europe: Federal Republic of Germany". American Jewish Yearbook (PDF). 84. American Jewish Committee and Jewish Publication Society of America. 1983. p. 208.
  26. "Israeli Artists Win Prize" (PDF). AJR Information. Association of Jewish Refugees. 38 (8): 3. August 1983.
  27. "Gestorben: Shmuel Rodensky" [Died: Shmuel Rodensky]. Der Spiegel (in German). 24 July 1989. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  28. Hacohen, David (1 April 2002). "שייקה אופיר, בארי 46, ת"א" [Shaike Ophir, Be'eri 46, Tel Aviv]. Ynet (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  29. Kronish & Safirman 2003, pp. 28, 111, 137, 138, 141, 208.
  30. Gifford 2016, pp. 849, 862.
  31. "Shmuel Rodensky". Internet Movie Database. 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2018.


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