Yiddish Theatre Ensemble Presents a New Works Lab Production

Between Worlds

Based on the life and poetry of Irena Klepfisz
Conceived and written by Naomi Newman
Directed and Choreographed by Bruce Bierman

August 16-20, 2023 at Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley

Playwright's Notes from Naomi Newman

May everyone who sees Between Worlds be as moved and healed by Irena Klepfisz’s life and poetry as I am. I’m awed by her journey from childhood trauma in Poland during the Second World War and how that informed her life as an artist, activist, and loving partner in her adult life. What you will hear tonight are her words, a braiding together of many of her poems. Only a few words are mine for connective purposes.

I was introduced to her work when A Traveling Jewish Theatre included two of her bi-lingual poems in its poetry play, Diamonds in the Dark. They were the most impactful pieces in the play. It was then I knew I wanted to go deeper into Irena’s work. It is an honor to portray this courageous, dimensional woman and to introduce her to you.

Director’s Notes from Bruce Bierman

When A Traveling Jewish Theater founder, Naomi Newman,  first presented the idea of collaborating on a new project with YTE, I must confess—co-artistic director Laura Sheppard and I had set our hearts on a rollicking comedy or musical.  Anything uplifting. The world was still in the debilitating isolation of Covid and many of us still couldn’t find the lamentation needed to grieve the reign of hate mongering and anti-immigrant sentiments that reared its familiar ugly head here in our country.  We thought audiences  might need some kind of escape from our relentless collective tzuris—troubles.  Being the soulful theater shaman she is, Ms Newman believed otherwise. She presented YTE with Between Worlds—a play based on the words and life of poet Irene Klepfisz.  In the play, Irena, the ‘keeper of accounts’, takes a courageous decision that most of us would prefer to avoid. She chooses to look closely at her own shadowed past.  As a side note, the ancient Greek word for theater, ‘theatron’ literally means ‘a place of seeing’.  In this theater of poetry and seeing, Irena looks fearlessly at her early years as a child refugee out of the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto to becoming a ‘stranger in a strange land’.  She turns her eye on her own struggle between the necessity of work and the yearning to have the luxurious time needed to loaf and daydream as a poet.  She looks at the everyday loving acts of being in a long relationship and the painful price of loving someone–the possibility of loosing them.  In doing so, she organizes through the revolutionary act of writing, a way to befriend her shadows rather than become undone by them.  Resigned to her nature as an ‘outsider’, Irena  looks, observes, interprets and participates in the writing of her own story in her own hard won unique voice—always a cause for celebration—giving us, her audience, permission to do the same.

Irena, the poet  —  Naomi Newman

Young Irena & Ensemble  —  Aviya Hernstadt

Rose Klepfisz, Judy & Ensemble  —  Diana Bukowska

Michal Klepfisz & Ensemble  —  Ariel Luckey


Barbara Borden (Percussion)  —  Susanne DiVincenzo (Cello and Bass)


Irena as the poet looking back: present day.
Poland in 1944, during the Holocaust.
Bronx, New York, late 1940s to early 1960s.
Other settings in New York City and Upstate New York, 1960s to the present, including Brooklyn, 1971.

Between Worlds Production Team

Yiddish Theatre Ensemble Co-Artistic Directors
Laura Sheppard, Producer and Bruce Bierman, Director

Assistant Director Karen Sellinger
Lighting Designer Kevin Myrick
Stage Managers Priyana Atwal, Romeo Channer
Costume Designer Kayleigh Stump
Director of Photography, Film Editor Jeremy Knight
Camera, Sound & Film Editing Jeremy Knight, Mark Faulkner
Dramaturg Zack Rogow

Community Outreach Consultant Michaela Aizer
Production Consultant/Fundraising Esther Shaw
Fundraising Denah Bookstein
Media Consultant Nadav Hochman
Grantwriter/ Media Consultant Dorrit Geshuri
Development Consultant Carolann Biederman
Photographer Vaschelle Andre
Publicist Lisa Geduldig

YTE is a fiscally-sponsored project of KlezCalifornia

Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971-2021 (Wesleyan University Press) by Irena Klepfisz is available at Afikomen

Thanks to composer Amanda (Miryem-Khaye) Seigel for the melody of Di Bahlatens Libe (Hidden Love).

This production is made possible in part by a CA$H Grant from Theatre Bay Area and the generous support of a grant from the Jack and Diane Stuppin Fund of the Community Foundation Sonoma County.

A big “shout out” to our GoFundMe supporters!

Special thanks to our Community Cosponsors

Afikomen, JCC of the East Bay, Jewish Community Library, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, Mechanics’ Institute, Shar’ar Zahav, TheatreFirst, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley-Center for Jewish Studies, Wesleyan University Press

Our Appreciation to our Theatre Colleagues, Friends & Volunteers

Victoria Erville, TheatreFirst Collective Co-Director/ Managing Director, Lindsey Abbott,  Audience Development Manager, Berkeley Rep, Judith Kunofsky, Executive Director, KlezCalifornia, Lauren McQuade, City Box Office, Professor Dov Hassan, Chabot College Theatre Department, Anne Weinberger, Garden Design, Gilberto Melendez, Prester Wilson, Natalie Fay, and our Volunteers!

Songs that are included in Between Worlds

Compiled by Susanne DiVincenzo; August 2, 2023

Songs are listed in the order of their appearance in the show.

Yiddish and Jewish Folk/Traditional Songs

Di bundishe shvue
, The Vow or Oath, The Jewish Labor Anthem; Sh. Ansky; 1902

Unter dyne vayse shteren, Under the Starry (White) Sky; Avraham Sutskover/Avraham Brodna; 1943

Zog nit keyn mol, (Never Say) The Partisan Song; Dmitri Pokras/Hirsh Glick; 1943

Mayn rue platz, My Resting Place; Morris Rosenfeld; c1920

Oyfn veg shteyt a boym, Along the Road There Stands a Tree; Yitzik Manger/Schmuel Fischer; c1921

Friling, Spring; Shmerke Kazerginski; 1943

Shabbat Blessing; traditional

Schtiller, schtiller, Hush, Hush; Alexander Volkovitzky/Schmerke Kazerginski; 1943

Papirossen, Cigarettes;  Herman Yablokoff; 1922

Donna Donna; Shalom Secunda/Aaron Zeitlin; 1940

Arum dem fayer, Around the Campfire; Tova Ben-Tzvi; c1935

Popular Songs from the Twentieth Century

For All We Know
; J. Fred Coots/Sam M. Lewis; 1934

America the Beautiful; Samuel A. Ward/Katharine Lee Bates; 1910

How About You?; Ralph Freed, Burton Lane; 1941