Lillian Lux Burstein (Lillian Sylvia Lukashefsky)

Lillian Lux Burstein

Lillian Lux Burstein

Lillian Lux, the matriarch of a celebrated Yiddish theatrical family who performed for decades as an actress and singer in New York and around the world, died on Saturday at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. She was 86 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was congestive heart failure, her son, Mike Burstyn, said.

With her husband, Pesach Burstein, Ms. Lux starred inYiddish-language plays and musicals from the 1930’s on. Among her most famous roles was Feygele in the operetta “A Khasene in Shtetl” (“A Village Wedding”), which she played opposite her husband. In later years, the couple performed with their two children as the Four Bursteins.

The family was the subject of a documentary, “The Komediant,” shown in the United States in 2002. Directed by Arnon Goldfinger, an Israeli filmmaker, the film is narrated by Ms. Lux.

The first decades of the 20th century were the glory days of the Yiddish stage, with more than a dozen theaters in New York City alone. To their devoted fans, who packed the seats for original productions and adaptations of the classics, Ms. Lux and Mr. Burstein were the Lunt and Fontanne of the Lower East Side.

In the late 1940’s Ms. Lux had her own Yiddish-language radio show on WEVD-AM. But by the 1950’s, with theatergoers graying and many American Jews assimilating, Yiddish theater began to disappear. By the 1970’s, it was almost completely gone. “The Komediant” chronicles the family’s peripatetic existence as they travel to Europe, South America and Israel in pursuit of an ever more elusive audience.

Lillian Sylvia Lukashefsky was born in Brooklyn on June 20, 1918; her family Americanized its surname when she was young. She began her stage training as a child with the Yiddish Art Theater, run by the impresario Maurice Schwartz. As a teenager, she played the Catskills, performing opposite Danny Kaye.

At 17 Ms. Lux met Mr. Burstein, more than 20 years her senior and an established star. He was looking for an actress for his South American tour. After making the requisite good impression on Ms. Lux’s parents, he hired her. They set sail and were married in Uruguay in 1938.

In the late 1930’s, the couple toured Poland, catching the last ship out before the Nazis invaded in September 1939. After the war, they returned to Europe. Little of their audience remained. In the 1950’s, the Bursteins went to Israel but found it difficult for Yiddish theater to take root there. They had better success a decade later, when they returned with “The Megilla of Itzik Manger.” The show, a musical version of the Book of Esther starring Ms. Lux, her husband and son, came to Broadway in a Yiddish-English production in 1968.

After her husband’s death in 1986, Ms. Lux performed in a one-woman show and appeared often on radio.

Besides her son, of Los Angeles (an actor on Broadway and in films, Mr. Burstyn changed the spelling of his name as an adult), Ms. Lux is survived by a daughter, Susan Roth of Westfield, N.J.; and a sister, Beatrice Friedman of Washington.


  • June, 20, 1918
  • Brooklyn, New York


  • June, 06, 2005
  • New York, New York

Cause of Death

  • congestive heart failure


  • Mount Hebron Cemetery

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