A New Unpublished Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Searching through Isaac Bashevis Singer’s archives, the literary scholar and translator David Stromberg discovered the Yiddish manuscript of a previously unknown story titled “The Boarder,” together with a typed English translation. While neither text bears a date, Stromberg speculates that both the original and the translation were produced in the mid-1950s, and that Singer did the translating himself or with assistance from a collaborator. The story—available here—involves a conversation between an older, devout Jew, Reb Berish, and his younger, impious boarder, Melnik, about the possibility of faith after the Holocaust. In an interview with Deborah Treisman, Stromberg comments:

Reb Berish’s faith may be seen as contributing to his isolation in America, but he clings to it, perhaps because, no matter how alone he may feel, his commitment to God and Judaism gives him a sense of connection to generations that have come before him. This may not seem like much from Melnik’s modern perspective, but, when an atrocity as unfathomable as the Holocaust becomes an unequivocal reality, this faith—which solves nothing—seems, at least, to offer a viable counterbalance to the despair of doubt.

This is what makes it possible for these two men to engage in dialogue. It doesn’t really matter which perspective is right or wrong. What comes to the fore is that, their personal beliefs aside, these two refugees both find themselves on the margins of American society, each coping to the best of his ability with his personal trauma and pain. . . . I imagine that Singer understood and empathized with the perspectives of both. He shared the cynicism of Melnik, but also believed in the regenerative power of Reb Berish’s faith.

Reb Berish is stubborn about his faith. . . . So how much more must he cling to it in the face of Melnik’s bitterness! And yet the fact that this bitterness is rooted in pain and anger also leaves open the door to repentance. Reb Berish engages him because, in his Jewish tradition, the way back to religion is always open, and also, if Melnik returns, Reb Berish will have evidence that faith can overcome doubt. . . .

If “The Boarder” was indeed written in the 1950s, as I suspect, it would fall within Singer’s own “return to faith,” not as observance but as a literary memorialization of his parents’ faith. The major expression of this was a series of pieces that was later published as the memoir collection In My Father’s Court, which first appeared in Yiddish, in 1955. This story seems to be in line with his own struggle between faith and doubt, against a brutal God but in support of the miracle of human faith.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Holocaust, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Judaism, Yiddish literature

 

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria