Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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RIBALOW / DEVILS, JEWS AND I. B. SINGER
17
Th is dem on is “a leftover from the days before the grea t catas­
troph e .” And: “I don ’t have to tell you tha t I am a Jew. What else, a
gentile? I ’ve hea rd th a t the re are gentile demons, bu t I d o n ’t
know any, no r do I wish to know them .” This dem on has been sent
to Tishevitz, a “God-forsaken village” no t too fa r from Lublin. It
is his task to co r rup t a pious young rabbi. He almost succeeds, bu t
in the end is defeated . He is doomed to rema in in Tishevitz fo r
“eternity plus a Wednesday.”
At this jun c tu re , Singer demonstrates tha t he is speaking to the
con temporary reade r while ostensibly discussing imps, demons
and devils. T he demon reflects and says:
I ’ve seen it all, the destruction o f Tishevitz, the des truc­
tion o f Poland. T h e re are no more Jews, no more demons
. . . T h e rabbi was marty red on a Friday in the mon th o f
Nisan. T he community was slaughtered , the holy books
bu rned , the cemetery desecrated . . . T h e re is no longer an
Angel o f Good no r an Angel o f Evil. No more sins, no more
temptations! T h e gene ration is already guilty seven times
over, bu t Messiah does not come. To whom should he come?
Messiah did not come fo r the Jews, so the Jews went to
Messiah. T h e re is no fu r th e r need fo r demons. We have
been annihilated. I am the last, a refugee.
Notice how the past has been mixed with the present; how
Singer, writing as it were from the outside, nevertheless is an
“insider.” He mourns what has happened to the Jews in H itler’s
furnaces, without m entioning a single particular. Suddenly, the
demon is truly a “Jewish” demon. He may be “evil,” bu t he
understands the wickedness o f man, which is the greatest wicked­
ness o f all.
I t is no wonder tha t Singer’s originality — his looking at the
world with fresh, sharp eyes, has fascinated his readers, in Yid­
dish, English, Japanese and a variety o f o the r languages. Singer’s
world is often unreal, ghostlike, full o f images evoked by im ­
pressionistic painters who splash the ir canvases crazily but with
b righ t colors. His ability to create devils in a world which we
ourselves do not inhabit (but which is close enough fo r recogni­
tion) holds and entrances us. We are in the presence o f a master
not only o f words bu t o f imagination. We may be uneasy in his
strange universe, bu t also are caught up by him and are forced to
acknowledge his story telling mastery.