"A Shayna Maidel" means "a pretty girl" in Yiddish. It is a common phrase used among Jews, to describe a pretty girl or woman; it is also an expression of love or hope.

A Shayna Maidel is also the title of a play by Barbara Lebow, written in 1984, first produced in 1985. It is the story of a Jewish family, divided in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The play is set in Manhattan, in 1946, and centers around Rose Weiss, a woman in her twenties. Rose was born in Poland, and came with her father Mordechai to the United States when she was four. Rose's mother and sister, Lusia, were supposed to join them, but Luisa became sick, and she and her mother had to stay behind. Then the Nazis came to power, and before they could escape, they were caught and imprisoned in concentration camps. Lusia survived, her mother did not.

The play takes place after the war has ended, and Lusia has found her way to America, where she reunites with Mordechai and Rose. Mordechai's feelings are mixed – joy at seeing his eldest daughter once more, but guilt that he essentially left her and his wife behind to be captured by the Nazis. As for Rose, who has been completely "Americanized" since last seeing her sister nearly twenty years ago, she is embarrassed by Lusia's broken English and old world mannerisms. Lusia, who has been separated from her husband by the war, worries that she may never see him again, and often relives memories from her childhood and life before the war, as well as horrors and circumstances with which her father and sister never had to contend.

A Shayna Maidel is a powerful, moving play, a poignant and evocative telling of one family's story of division, reunification, and strength. Although it has a small cast and not much in the way of scenery or effects, its emotional content is difficult to successfully bring to stage, and it is most likely not a production that you would see at your local high school or community theater. However, if you do get the opportunity to attend a performance, or even a staged reading of this drama, I suggest you go. This deeply affecting drama portrays not only separation and grief, but sustenance and hope, and the belief that from a broken and bitter past, a better future may be born.

Source: Lebow, Barbara. A Shayna Maidel. Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1988.

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