Isaac Bashevis Singer
By Seymour Sy Brody
The crowning moment in Isaac Bashevis Singer's life was when he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978. This recognition of Singer's writings also glorified the beauty and power of the Yiddish language.
Born in Radzymin, Poland, on July 14, 1904, in a long lineage of rabbis, Singer was one of four children. His parents were Rabbi Pincus Menachem and Bathsheba (Zylberman). Singer's young life in the Jewish shtetls of Poland was steeped in Hassidism. He was educated in the Jewish schools and at one time he was enrolled in a rabbinical seminary. When he was four, his family moved to Warsaw where his father, a Hassidic scholar, established a Beth Din (rabbinical court).
In 1917, Singer moved with his mother to his maternal grandmother, who lived in a small town. Here he learned about Jewish life in the shtetl, which would become a topic for his short stories and novels.
In the early 1920s, Singer went to Warsaw to join his older brother, Israel Joseph, who was to write such works as The Brothers Ashkenazi and Yoshe Kalb. Singer joined his brother despite the vigorous objections of his parents, who wanted him to become a rabbi. In Warsaw, he obtained a job as a proofreader for a Yiddish literary magazine. Interested in writing, he first tried to do so in Hebrew, but since it was used only for prayer, he switched to Yiddish.
By 1926, Singer was writing book reviews and short stories. In 1932, he became co-editor of Globus, a Yiddish literary magazine. In 1935, he left his first wife, Rachel, and his son, Israel, to immigrate to America to join his older brother in New York City, where he became a freelance writer for the Jewish Daily Forward. Many of his novels were serialized in the Forward and, in 1950, his novel The Family Moskat was translated into English by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Singer became instantly famous and he received the Louis Lamed Prize. An Italian translation, in 1968, won him Italy's Bacarrella Prize.
Many of Singer's writings have reflected his experiences as a youth in Poland. The shtetl, mysticism, folklore, the supernatural and religion were his themes. He also wrote stories for children and was acclaimed for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, a children's book about animals, children, and supernatural creatures.
After he divorced Rachel, Singer married Alma Heimann, a refugee from Germany. A vegetarian, he and his wife both loved living creatures and spent a great deal of time in the park feeding the birds.
Singer was a member of the I.L. Peretz Writers Union and a fellow of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America and the American Institute of Arts and Sciences. Singer, whose writings have been translated from Yiddish into Hebrew, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Norwegian and Finnish, stands as a giant and legend of our Yiddish writers of our time.
Singer died on July 24, 1991, at the age 87, from a series of strokes.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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