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A Serious Mensch

Fyvush Finkel’s career, rooted in Yiddish theater, has lasted nearly eight decades. And he’s not planning on retirement anytime soon.

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Fyvush Finkel, May 2010.(Rivka Katvan)

Fyvush Finkel made his stage debut nearly 80 years ago, when he was 9 years old, singing “O, Promise Me” at a theater in Brooklyn. Soon after, he crossed the East River to take roles in the legendary Yiddish theaters of Second Avenue. From there, he made his way onto Broadway and then into films by the likes of Sidney Lumet, Oliver Stone, and the Coen brothers. Finkel also had recurring roles on Picket Fences, for which he won an Emmy, and Boston Public.

Now he’s starring in Fyvush Finkel Live!, a musical revue that runs through November 7 in Manhattan. On his day off, Finkel regaled Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry with stories about the early days of Yiddish theater, his expedited entry into serial television, and the mesmerizing maggid of his neighborhood shul. And he sang for her, too. Running time: 14:22. 

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J Carpenter says:

He is a treasure—

Les Schaffer says:

Fyvush Finkel was one of my inspirations when I retired from therapizing, at age 65, to become an almost full-time storyteller. Now, 9 years later, he still inspires, delights and entertains me. A thousand blessings on his head.

Absolutely wonderful, I could listen for an hour.

Just one pedantic point: it should be “mentsh.”

Wonderful! He is completely unknown in Germany, except for the judge in Picked Fences he used to play. I love that Yiddish song he sings :-)

Cynthia says:

What a wonderful man ! I remember him in that t.v. show about the teachers…..I would love to be sitting in the Synagogue with you ….from an Ausy girl…

Harold Yeglin says:

Fyvush is a long-time favorite (I’m four years younger
than he). One query: My father emigrated from Lithuania
in 1905. His English name was also Philip. However, in Yiddish (or Hebrew) he answered to Phytl. Any authoritative explanation available?

Rachel says:

Fyvush sounds like he’s as sharp as a tack. I wish my grandparents could hear this, I know they would have loved it.

Excellent piece.

jeanette says:

so, this is the last week of his show…nu? didja all buy tickets? come see it!

What a magical human being – a real inspiration.
May you stay forever young

Susan Patton says:

Marcus… Fyvush Finkel played a lawyer in Picket Fences, Douglas Wambaugh. It was the late, great Ray Walston who played Judge Henry Bone on Picket Fences. It was one of my most favorite TV programs. The first season is available on DVD – - remarkable how it still stands up as wonderful viewing after 15 years.

TO : “J”, who wrote
Nov 1, 2010 at 12:07 PM
Absolutely wonderful, I could listen for an hour.
Just one pedantic point: it should be “mentsh.”

Unfortunately,your pedantry is misinformed. The transliteration of the Yiddish word as “mensch”, is correct as written, using the German alphabet to spell the German language origin of the Yiddish word. The English transliteration would be “mensh”, again no “t”. The word in Yiddish is spelled “mem”(m) “ayin”(eh) “nun”(n) “shin”(sh). There is no “t” vocalization. [English-Yiddish Encyclopedic Dictionary, Paul Abelson, Ph.D., 1924]

David Strassler says:

I met Fyvush (we kids called him friedfish) when he was entertainment director at the Monteray(?) Hotel in the Jewish Alps in 1950. He was a really nice person and treated the children with respect. A fargenigen to know you.

What a wonderful interview. I remember you and your parents from Fleisher’s Bungalow Colony in the Catskills when I was a child. In 1968 or 69, My husband & I saw you perform in Las Vegas in Fiddler and spoke to you then. What a treat! That was all many years ago, but you still have the same vitality today. May you continue performing for many years to come. Mazel Tov.

Michael Burke says:

I am privileged to have worked with and understudied Fyvush with the road company of Fiddler on the Roof. 1967-70
He is one of the good guys.

Carrie Grinstead says:

I worked at Syracuse Stage in 1980-81 and was ASM when Fyvush was in the cast of “Goodnight, Grandpa” which later went to Broadway with Milton Berle in the lead role & many from the Syracuse cast. Getting to know Fyvush and his wonderful wife Trudy was a privilege. Thanks for being a friend to a youngster just starting out so many years ago.

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A Serious Mensch

Fyvush Finkel’s career, rooted in Yiddish theater, has lasted nearly eight decades. And he’s not planning on retirement anytime soon.

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