A New Unpublished Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer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

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times