poland

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Often referred to as "the last great writer of the Yiddish language", he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born on November 21, 1902, in the village of Leoncin near Warsaw, as Icek Hersz-Zynger. His father was a Hasidic rabbi, and his mother was a daughter of a rabbi. When Icek was six, his family moved to a flat on Krochmalna Street, located in a Yiddish-speaking quarter of Warsaw, which later became the setting for Singer’s many novels and short stories.

His books are also often set in Biłgoraj near Lublin, where the Singers moved in 1917. Singer entered a rabbinical seminary but never finished it. He tried to support himself doing many odd jobs such as teaching Hebrew and proof-reading, but at this point in life the future Nobel laureate lacked confidence and direction in his life.

Even though it is Isaac who is the most famed Singer, his sister Esther and his brother Israel Joshua were also writers. It was at the invitation of the latter that Isaac - fearful of the growing threat of Nazi Germany - emigrated to New York in 1935.

Singer's first story won him a literary award and encouraged him to venture into a writing career, which started to gain traction in the 1940s. Even though he spoke Polish, Hebrew and English fluently, he insisted on writing in Yiddish, which earned him the label of "the last great writer of the Yiddish language".

He had many influences and took on very different topics - including some controversial ones - as well as writing forms, but it was the short story form that suited him best. His most famous books, such as "The Magician of Lublin" and "The Estate", are set in Poland in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and they reflect the world of the Eastern European Jewry in which Singer grew up. They often have religious undertones, too, even though Singer's relationship to Judaism was rather complex. He was deeply affected by the condition of animals, and became a devout and militant vegetarian, often taking his defense of animal welfare to the extreme.

Singer published at least 18 novels, almost as many children's books, numerous short stories, memoirs, essays and articles, and translated a number of great literary works into Yiddish. In 1978, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for "his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life".

He died on July 24, 1991, in Miami.

The annual Warsaw festival of Jewish culture, "Singer's Warsaw", was named after him. It encompasses jazz, pop, cabaret, theatre, literature, visual arts, history, and - most importantly - tells the story of Jewish traditions in Poland. 

21.11.2019