A New Unpublished Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war