A Story, Appearing in English for the First Time, of an Immigrant Who Tries to Forget the Old Country

April 18 2019

Appearing in Yiddish in 1965, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “A Letter to Mama,” has never been published in English until now. Its protagonist is a Polish-born immigrant living in the Midwest who has grown distant from all things Jewish, and receives an unexpected nocturnal visitation from his mother’s spirit. In Aliza Shevrin’s translation, it begins thus:

The older he became, the less able Sam Metzger was to understand why he had never written to his mother after leaving Krasnobrod for America. This “letter to Mama,” which he never wrote, became the bane of his existence. Granted that he disliked writing letters and that during the first years in New York he used to work fifteen hours a day in a sweat shop. Still, to leave his widowed mother behind in Krasnobrod and never write her so much as a single word, he had to be out of his mind. Sam could not fathom how this came about, although he had brooded over it many sleepless nights.

At first, it was simply a manner of putting it off. Then he seemed to forget about it altogether. At night, while trying to fall asleep in Moishe Leckechbecker’s alcove on Attorney Street, along with three other boarders, he would think of it. In the morning, he would forget again. Later the nagging sense of shame turned into a conviction that it was already too late. A devil possessed him who wouldn’t let him take a pen in hand. In New York at the time, they were all singing a popular Yiddish song which went: “Why delay? Write your mother today.” From the Yiddish theater stage, from Second Avenue cabarets, in the workshops on Grand Street, from record players blaring in homes, the song followed him everywhere.

Perhaps that was the reason Sam left New York. . . .

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More about: Immigration, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yiddish literature

 

The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media