February 3, 1980
Acclaimed actress Hanna Rovina dies in Ra’anana at age 91. Her body lies in state the next day at the Habimah Theatre, and she is eulogized by Shimon Finkel as “the high priestess of the Hebrew theater” and “the very symbol of national revival and of the renaissance of the Hebrew language.”
Rovina was born into a religious family in Byerazino near Minsk in what is now Belarus on Sept. 15, 1888. She studied in Warsaw to become a Hebrew teacher, and she taught kindergartners before moving to Moscow in 1917 at the urging of Nahum Zemach, whom she met in Warsaw, to join a new Hebrew theater company. She made her stage debut in 1918 as the old mother in Shalom Asch’s “The Oldest Daughter.” The company became the Habimah Theatre, which toured the world and was based in Russia until moving in 1928 to Palestine, where it was the flagship of the Zionist theater movement.
By that time, Rovina was recognized for her starring role as the Leah in “The Dybbuk,” which Habimah premiered in Hebrew in Moscow in January 1922. Rovina played Leah in every Habimah revival of “The Dybbuk” until 1957, but she received the part only after Shoshana Avivit decided to leave the company shortly before the premiere. Critic A. Kugel wrote of the initial run: “The wonderful gifts of actress Rovina stand out in an exceptional manner. … Only a very talented and wide awake actress could act as precisely and subtly as she does.”
Rovina’s roles over the years included Medea, Lady Macbeth, Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman,” Queen Isabella of Spain in “The Conversos” and the queen mother in “Richard III.” She was awarded the Israel Prize for theater in 1956.