Isaac Bashevis Singer

21 Nov 1902
24 Jul 1991
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Isaac Bashevis Singer ( November 21, 1902 – July 24, 1991) was a Polish-born Jewish author in Yiddish, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.[2] The Polish form of his birth name was Icek Hersz Zynger.

He used his mother’s first name in an initial literary pseudonym, Izaak Baszewis, which he later expanded to the form under which he is now known.

He was a leading figure in the Yiddish literary movement, writing and publishing only in Yiddish. He also was awarded two U.S. National Book Awards, one in Children’s Literature for his memoir A Day Of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1970) and one in Fiction for his collection, A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (1974).

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in 1902 in Leoncin village near Warsaw, Poland, under military partitions by the Russian Empire.

A few years later, the family moved to a nearby Polish town of Radzymin, which is often and erroneously given as his birthplace. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but most probably it was November 21, 1902, a date that Singer gave both to his official biographer Paul Kresh, and his secretary Dvorah Telushkin.

It is also consistent with the historical events he and his brother refer to in their childhood memoirs. The often-quoted birth date, July 14, 1904 was made up by the author in his youth, most probably to make himself younger to avoid the draft.

His father was a Hasidic rabbi and his mother, Bathsheba, was the daughter of the rabbi of Biłgoraj. Singer later used her name in his pen name “Bashevis” (Bathsheba’s). Both his older siblings, sister Esther Kreitman (1891–1954) and brother Israel Joshua Singer (1893–1944), became writers as well. Esther was the first of the family to write stories.

The family moved to the court of the Rabbi of Radzymin in 1907, where his father became head of the Yeshiva. After the Yeshiva building burned down in 1908, the family moved to a flat at ul. Krochmalna 10. In the spring of 1914, the Singers moved to No. 12.

The street where Singer grew up was located in the impoverished, Yiddish-speaking Jewish quarter of Warsaw. There his father served as a rabbi, and was called on to be a judge, arbitrator, religious authority and spiritual leader in the Jewish community.

The unique atmosphere of pre-war Krochmalna Street can be found both in the collection of Varshavsky-stories, which tell stories from Singer’s childhood, as well as in those novels and stories which take place in pre-war Warsaw.

In 1917, because of the hardships of World War I, the family split up. Singer moved with his mother and younger brother Moshe to his mother’s hometown of Biłgoraj, a traditional shtetl, where his mother’s brothers had followed his grandfather as rabbis.

When his father became a village rabbi again in 1921, Singer returned to Warsaw. He entered the Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary and soon decided that neither the school nor the profession suited him.

He returned to Biłgoraj, where he tried to support himself by giving Hebrew lessons, but soon gave up and joined his parents, considering himself a failure. In 1923 his older brother Israel Joshua arranged for him to move to Warsaw to work as a proofreader for the Jewish Literarische Bleter, of which the brother was an editor.

In 1935, four years before the German invasion, Singer emigrated from Poland to the United States. He was fearful of the growing Nazi threat in neighboring Germany.

The move separated the author from his common-law first wife Runia Pontsch and son Israel Zamir (b. 1929); they emigrated to Moscow and then Palestine. (The three met again in 1955).

Singer settled in New York City, where he took up work as a journalist and columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward , a Yiddish-language newspaper. After a promising start, he became despondent and felt for some years “Lost in America” (title of his 1974 novel published in Yiddish; he published it in English in 1981).

In 1938, he met Alma Wassermann (born Haimann) {b. 1907 – d. 1996}, a German-Jewish refugee from Munich. They married in 1940, and their union seemed to release energy in him; he returned to prolific writing and to contributing to the Forward.

In addition to his pen name of “Bashevis,” he published under the pen names of “Warszawski” (pron. Varshavsky) during World War II, and “D. Segal.” They lived for many years in the Belnord apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In 1981, Singer delivered a commencement address at the University at Albany, and was presented with an honorary doctorate.

Singer died on July 24, 1991 in Surfside, Florida, after suffering a series of strokes. He was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey.

A street in Surfside, Florida is named Isaac Singer Boulevard in his honor. The full academic scholarship for undergraduate students at the University of Miami is named in his honor.

Singer became a literary contributor to the Forward only after his older brother Israel died in 1945. That year, Singer published The Family Moskat in his brother’s honor. His own style showed in the daring turns of his action and characters, with (and this in the Jewish family-newspaper in 1945!) double adultery during the holiest of nights of Judaism, the evening of Yom Kippur.

He was almost forced to stop writing the novel by his legendary editor-in-chief, Abraham Cahan, but was saved by readers who wanted the story to go on. After this, his stories—which he had published in Yiddish literary newspapers before—were printed in the Forward as well. Throughout the 1940s, Singer’s reputation grew.

Singer believed in the power of his native language and thought that there was still a large audience, including in New York, who longed to read in Yiddish.

In an interview in Encounter (February 1979), he claimed that although the Jews of Poland had died, “something—call it spirit or whatever—is still somewhere in the universe. This is a mystical kind of feeling, but I feel there is truth in it.”

Some of his colleagues and readers were shocked by his all-encompassing view of human nature. He wrote about female homosexuality (“Zeitl and Rickel”,[24] “Tseytl un Rikl”), published in The Seance and Other Stories[25]), transvestism (“Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” in Short Friday), and of rabbis corrupted by demons (“Zeidlus the Pope” in Short Friday).

In those novels and stories which refer to events in his own life, he portrays himself unflatteringly (with some degree of accuracy) as an artist who is self-centered yet has a keen eye for the sufferings and tribulations of others.

Singer published at least 18 novels, 14 children’s books, a number of memoirs, essays and articles. He is best known as a writer of short stories, which have been published in more than a dozen collections.

The first collection of Singer’s short stories in English, Gimpel the Fool, was published in 1957. The title story was translated by Saul Bellow and published in May 1953 in the Partisan Review.

Selections from Singer’s “Varshavsky-stories” in the Daily Forward were later published in anthologies such as My Father’s Court (1966). Later collections include A Crown of Feathers (1973), with notable masterpieces in between, such as The Spinoza of Market Street (1961) and A Friend of Kafka (1970).

His stories and novels reflect the world of the East European Jewry in which he grew up. After his many years in America, his stories also portrayed the world of the immigrants and their pursuit of an elusive American dream, which seems always beyond reach.

Prior to Singer’s winning the Nobel Prize, English translations of dozens of his stories were frequently published in popular magazines such as Playboy and Esquire. They were publishing literary works and included his stories among their best; in turn, he found them to be appropriate outlets for his work.

Throughout the 1960s, Singer continued to write on questions of personal morality.

Because of the controversial aspects of his plots, he was a target of scathing criticism from many quarters, some of it for not being “moral” enough, some for writing stories that no one wanted to hear.

To his critics he replied, “Literature must spring from the past, from the love of the uniform force that wrote it, and not from the uncertainty of the future.”

Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978.

The Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame is named after him, as is the media gondola at the nearby Air Canada Centre.

Hewitt’s original gondola from Maple Leaf Gardens was dismantled, then dumped into an incinerator in August 1979 to make room for private boxes, under the MLG leadership of Harold Ballard.

Foster Hewitt was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.[3]

Hewitt died of throat cancer on April 21, 1985 at the age of 82. He was survived by son Bill Hewitt and predeceased by wife Elizabeth Kathleen How (d. 1969) and daughter Elizabeth Ann Somerville (d. 1977).

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