Page 69 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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L
e f tw ic h
— B
ashevis
S
inger
in
Y
iddish
L
iterature
63
unrelated, Leivick Halper who reversed his name and became
Halper Leivick to avoid confusion with Moishe Leib Halperin.
When I sent Bashevis my translation of his beautiful short story
“ The Bird” for inclusion in my
Yisroel
anthology, he wrote Singer
after the name Isaac Bashevis which I had given. He feels that
with his work he is continuing his brother’s name. He speaks of
him as “My brother I. J. Singer, my teacher and master in litera­
ture. I am still learning from him and his work.”
No one will say that Bashevis can’ t write. He has many lovely
stories. I have just had a letter from a young American novelist
who writes about a Bashevis short story, “The Letter Writer,” in
The New Yorker.
He is worried because “ it is the very reverse of
what his Yiddish critics object to in Bashevis. Granted, the setting
of this story is New York, not Eastern Europe. Granted also that
the substance of the story is full of a certain personal mysticism
some Jews might regard as mere superstition. Yet, the principal
element about the story is the saintly gentleness of the main char­
acter, his subtly reflective passivity which, in the face of material
disaster, breeds a superhuman strength in him. To me the most
interesting aspect of the story is the way Bashevis Singer, with a
deep, bemused, quizzical tolerance, finds that irrational beliefs
in long-distance telepathy are nonetheless (miraculously or not) a
medium for the realest kind of love and generosity. Of course the
story wouldn’ t come off if it weren’ t for the extraordinary com­
mand of physical surfaces, objects, habits, idioms, smells which
Bashevis Singer possesses.”
Why is it that good Yiddish writers who as a rule take delight
in any praise of a Yiddish writer as redounding to the credit of
the Yiddish literature to which they belong, make such a dead
set against Bashevis when not only non-Jewish but Jewish critics
whose language is not Yiddish, but some of whom are soaked with
Jewish feeling and are not without Jewish knowledge idolize
him as one of them says, as “one of the finest, most brilliant and
fascinating creative writers on the world literary scene.”
Of course, I do not overlook the element of envy in the way
the Jewish Literary Establishment has reacted to Bashevis’s success
in the literary market. Sholem Asch and Shneour and Itzik Manger
and others experienced bitter hostility evoked by envy. The poet
Leyeless confessed that in his youth the young Yiddish writers in
America conducted an agitation against “ the established names
in our literature less for reasons of literary credos than the desire
to topple the eminences from their pedestals, to get their names
known, to climb on the back of the notoriety it brought them to
the positions they coveted and eventually got.” We find it in all
literatures. Cyril Connolly has written of “ the Envy Belt which
encircles every writer of talent.” Not only the Jewish writer, the