Friday 26 August 2016


YISROEL-SHIYE ZINGER (Y. Y. ZINGER, I. J. SINGER) (November 30, 1893-February 10, 1944)
            He was born in Biłgoraj, Lublin district, Poland.  His father, Pinkhes-Mendl Zinger, was a great scholar, an author of a number of religious texts, and for a time rabbi in Leoncin, near Warsaw, later serving as a rabbinical judge in Warsaw and subsequently in Dzików (Dzhikov), Galicia.  His mother Basheva was the daughter of the rabbi of Biłgoraj.  Until age seventeen Zinger studied Talmud, Tosafot, and other commentators, including Yore dea (one of the sections of Shulḥan arukh)—with itinerant teachers, in Radzymin with the rebbe, in the Ger Yeshiva in Warsaw—and at the same time, he was surreptitiously reading books in Hebrew, later in Yiddish as well, while trying his hand at drawing, painting, and writing.  At eighteen years of age, he left home, moved to Warsaw where he worked as a machine repairer, an office worker, a retoucher for the writer and photographer Alter Katsizne (Kacyzne), and an unskilled laborer as well.  As an external student at the time, he studied Polish, Russian, German, and other secular subjects.  With the outbreak of WWI in 1914, in order not to go to war which went against his convictions, he hid out in an artist’s atelier of the later well-known sculpture Abraham Ostrzega in Warsaw, and there he turned his attention to painting and writing Hassidic stories.  He suffered from want and hunger, and worked for a time for the Germans to repair a bridge.  At that time the Orthodox leader Nokhum-Leyb Vayngot was preparing to publish an Orthodox newspaper, and he was looking for newspaper writers within Orthodox circles.  He got wind of Zinger, the son of the rabbinical judge from the Krochmalna area (of Warsaw), and wrote and sent after him to ask if he had a sketch of Jewish life.  “It need not be Orthodox, but it only must not be heretical,” he cautioned.  Zinger then placed in Vayngot’s weekly, Dos yudishe vort (The Jewish word), a sketch about an older woman, and this was his literary début.  Later in the same newspaper he published a series of other stories, and he translated a novel by the German writer Lehmann which was built around the biography of Rabbi Juselmann.
            After the Revolution in Russia, Zinger (early 1918) left for Kiev where he published a series of novellas in the Kiev Yiddish daily newspaper Di naye tsayt (The new times), which had begun publication in September 1917, and in the collections Baginen (Dawn) and Oyfgang (Arise) in Kiev (1919).  He also worked for the newspapers as a proofreader and carried the papers to the post office.  Under the influence of the “Kiev Group” of writers, he composed his dramas Erd-vey (Earth-woe) and Dray (Three).  When Denikin’s troops seized Kiev in 1919, Zinger wrote his story “Perl” (Pearl) which marked a change in his subsequent literary road.  He initially had no success with the story: in early 1920 he traveled to Moscow and offered it to Dovid Bergelson for a literary anthology that the latter was planning to publish.  Bergelson liked the story and arranged for Zinger to read the story before the Moscow Yiddish writers, but the story was not a hit among them.  Litvakov stated simply that it was “unprintable.”  At the end of 1921 he returned to Warsaw and published his story in Ringen (Links), a journal for literature, art, and criticism (Warsaw, 1921-1922), edited by M. Vaykhert.  Initially “Perl” did not engender any particular interest in Warsaw, but Ab. Kahan noticed it and republished it in Forverts (Forward), wrote an enthusiastic essay about it, and from that point (1923) Zinger not only published in Forverts (in New York) his fictional works, but he became a regular correspondent to the newspaper for Poland, and he published (under the pseudonym G. Kuper) hundreds of correspondence pieces, descriptions, and events from Jewish life in Poland.  In 1924 on assignment for Forverts, he visited Galicia, and in a long series of articles described local Jewish life.  Over the years 1922-1928, he was thoroughly absorbed in the emerging Jewish cultural and literary life in Poland, took an active part in virtually all local literary publications, anthologies, and periodicals, and was one of the initiators and avid supporters of Ringen.  Together with Perets Markish, Nakhmen Mayzil, Alter Kacyzne, and Meylekh Ravitsh, in 1924 he was a co-editor of Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw, and he was one of the founders and (with Perets Markish) co-editors of the journal Khalyastre (Gang) (Warsaw, 1922—only one issue appeared).  He traveled through Poland in 1926, and he published his impressions from the trip in Haynt (Today) in Warsaw.  He also closely contributed to the Warsaw publishing house of Kultur-lige (Culture league) of B. Kletskin.  Zinger also published stories, literary critical articles, and book reviews in such Warsaw publications as Bikher-velt (Book world), Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), and Varshever almanakh (Warsaw almanac), and Tsukunft (Future) in New York.  He made a trip to Soviet Russia in 1926, and after returning (late 1927) he came out (in Literarishe bleter, no. 43) with a call to Yiddish writers in all lands that they convene a world conference following the example of the Czernowitz Language Conference of 1908.  “Such a congress,” he wrote at the time, “would be of immense moral significance.  Afterward, as we establish a rapprochement among ourselves, we will be able to create bonds between ourselves and the world, between ourselves and the Yiddish press, between ourselves and Yiddish readers, between one country and the next….”  He was in 1928 one of the principal initiators of the planned revival of the journal Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world) through Kletskin publishers, and he (together with Perets Markish, Nakhmen Mayzil, and Meylekh Ravitsh) edited the first issue of the journal, but with the second issue he withdrew from the journal.  He had experienced at the time a personal crisis caused by attacks on him in a number of Yiddish newspapers, and with an open letter in Folkstsaytung (Warsaw) he withdrew from fictional writing altogether.  In the next few years, he did indeed fulfill this “vow” and devoted himself solely to newspaper work for Forverts in New York and Haynt in Warsaw, but a rendezvous with Ab. Cahan in 1931 in Berlin changed his mood, it would appear, and on June 4, 1932 he began to publish in installments in Forverts his novel Yoshe kalb (Yoshe Kalb [calf])—approximately at this time he also published it in Haynt.  This work depicted a slice of Jewish life from Galician rabbinical courts in the latter half of the nineteenth century, but the types and figures of this life in 1930s Jewish Poland were more than anything else living, realistic figures and had an immense impact on actual Jewish life.  The novel aroused great enthusiasm among the masses of readers on both sides of the Atlantic, but at the same time many malicious critics, such as those coming from the side of religious Jewry, as well as Yiddish writers who believed that the author in this work had sinned in comparison with pure artistic creation.  In 1931 Yoshe kalb was staged by Maurice Schwartz and performed to great success in his Yiddish Art Theatre in New York and on tour in North America.  The success of its dramatization was so enormous that in New York alone it played continuously for two consecutive seasons.  In August 1931 Zinger traveled to the United States and attended the performance of Yoshe kalb In New York.  In 1932 he published in the monthly Globus (The globe) in Warsaw his play Savinkov ([Boris] Savinkov) which was staged in the Warsaw Polish theater under the direction of Leon Schiller.  After the death of his older son Yankev in 1933, Zinger settled in New York and published serially in Forverts his novels: Di brider ashkenazi (The brothers Ashkenazi), Khaver nakhmen (Comrade Nakhmen), Di mishpokhe karnovski (The family Carnovsky), and a novel of American Jewish life entitled In di berg (In the mountains).  He also wrote pieces for Tsukunft and Svive (Environs), edited by K. Molodovski, in New York, among other journals.
            Zinger’s works in book form include: Erd-vey, a drama in three scenes from the era of the war, revolution, and pogroms in Ukraine (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1922), 55 pp.; Perl un andere detseylungen (Pearl and other stories) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1922), 245 pp., second edition (Vilna: Kletskin, 1929), 257 pp.; Leymgrubn (Clay mines) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1924), 38 pp.; Af fremde erd, ertseylungen (On alien soil, stories) (Vilna: Kletskin, 1925), 278 pp., second edition (1930); Shtol un ayzn, roman (Steel and iron, a novel), a novel from the period of WWI, the Russian Civil War, and the Revolution in Russia (Vilna: Kletskin, 1927), 346 pp., second edition (1928); Nay-rusland, bilder fun a rayze (New Russia, impressions from a trip) in the Soviet Union (Vilna: Kletskin, 1928), 246 pp., second edition (Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1939); Yoshe kalb, a novel published by the author (Warsaw, 1932), 341 pp., with other editions (Buenos Aires: G. Kaplanski, 1933), 255 pp., (Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1937), and (New York: Matones, 1956), 238 pp.; Di brider Ashkenazi, a novel in three volumes from the history of the Jewish community in Lodz and the contribution of Jews to the construction of the local textile industry—part 1, “Geburt” (Birth), 328 pp.; part 2, “Koymens in himl” (Chimneys in the sky), 288 pp.; part 3, “Shpinvebs” (Cobwebs), 272 pp.—(Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1936; New York: M. N. Mayzel, 1937; New York: Matones, 1951), dramatized by Maurice Schwartz and staged with great success in his Art Theatre in New York and on tour in Europe and in Latin American countries (it was also translated in English, Dutch, and Spanish and elicited great enthusiasm among critics throughout the world)[1]; Friling un andere dertseylungen (Spring and others stories) (Warsaw: Kh. Bzhoza, 1937), 223 pp.; Khaver nakhmen, a novel in three parts (New York, 1938), 447 pp., dramatized by Zinger himself and staged by Maurice Schwartz’s Art Theatre; Di mishpokhe karnovski, a novel from the era of Hitler (New York: Matones, 1943), 518 pp., also dramatized and staged by Maurice Schwartz’s Art Theatre; Fun a velt vos iz noshto mer (From a world that is no more), memoirs of Zinger’s childhood years, published earlier in Forverts under the title “Emese pasirungen” (True events) (New York: Matones, 1946), 267 pp., with a bio-bibliographical introduction by Arn Tsaytlin; Vili (Willy), abridged and interpreted by Zalmen Yefroykin (New York: New York Workmen’s Circle Middle School, 1948), 111 pp.; Dertseylungen (Stories) (New York: Matones, 1949), 349 pp.  In Hebrew: Yoshe egel (Yoshe the calf), translated by Menaḥem Zalman Wolfowski (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1936), 235 pp.; Haaḥim ashkenazi (The brothers Ashkenazi), translated by David Sivan (Tel Aviv: M. Nyuman, 1953), 594 pp.  Also translated into Hebrew was Di mishpokhe karnovski (as Bet karnovski), translated by M. Lipson (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1945/1946), 479 pp.; and a volume of his stories entitled Mishene evre havisla (From both sides of the Vistula), translated by Shimshon Meltser (Jerusalem: Hameasef, 1945), 269 pp.  In English: The Sinner (translation of Yoshe kalb), translated by Maurice Samuel (London: Victor Gollancz, 1933), 318 pp., (New York: Liveright, 1933), 314 pp.; Blood Harvest (translation of Shtol un ayzn), translated by Morris Kreitman (son of Esther Kreitman) (London, 1935), 344 pp.; The Brothers Ashkenazi, translated by Maurice Samuel (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1938), 642 pp.; East of Eden (translation of Khaver nakhmen), translated by Maurice Samuel (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1939), 402 pp., (London: Putnam & Co., 1939), 470 pp.  In Polish: Yoshe Kalb (Warsaw: Roy, 1934).  Zinger translated from the Polish Jerzy Żuławski’s drama in four acts: Shapse tsvi (Shabbatai Tsvi [original: Koniec Mesjasza (The end of the messiah)]) (Warsaw: Di tsayt, 1923), 144 pp.—it was staged with great success by Sigmund Turkow in Warsaw and by Maurice Schwartz in New York.  Zinger contributed to a great number of newspapers, journals, and periodical publications in various countries.  His writings were included in Yiddish readers and textbooks, as well as in anthologies in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and other languages.  In 1960 the publisher Matones in New York reissued Khaver nakhmen in a new edition (336 pp.).
            Zinger died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in New York.  He was the older brother of the writer Yitskhok Bashevis and younger brother of the novelist Esther Kreitman.  “Y. Y. Zinger was prose master,” wrote Meylekh Ravitsh, “of the first rank.  His art of building an architectonic novel was virtually unmatched in Yiddish literature.  His rich, exacting, though sparsely idiomatic language had a classical quality.  In his major works—Comrade Nakhmen, The Brothers Ashkenazi, and The Family Carnovsky—he masterfully brought to expression the issues of his time….  Also, as an essayist Zinger made lasting accomplishments.  I note only one essay by him: ‘Tsvey-toyzentyoriker toes’ (Two-thousand-year-old error), Tsukunft (1939).”
            (Translator’s note: Many more editions and translations of his work have appeared in recent years.  See also the excellent study by Anita Norich, The Homeless Imagination in the Fiction of Israel Joshua Singer (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991—JAF).

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1; Y. Shtern, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (February 18, 1927); Shtern, Lider un un eseyen (Poems and essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 248-50; N. Mayzil, Noente un vayte (Near and far), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1926), pp. 233-39; Mayzil, in Haynt-yubiley-bukh, 668-688, 1908-1928 (Jubilee volume for Haynt, 668-688, 1908-1928) (Warsaw, 1928); Mayzil, in Forverts (New York) (September 25, 1932); Mayzil, in Literarishe bleter (October 11, 1935); Mayzil, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (March 1944); Mayzil, Forgeyer un mittsaytler (Forerunner and contemporary) (New York, 1946), pp. 372-91; Mayzil, Geven amol a lebn (Once was a life) (Buenos Aires, 1951); Mayzil, in Amerike in yidishn vort (America in the Yiddish word), an anthology (New York, 1956), see index; M. Vaykhert, Teater un drame (Theater and drama), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1926), pp. 30-34; Vaykhert, in Di yidishe velt (Vilna) (May 1928); Perets Markish, in Shtern (Minsk) (March 1927); Yud Beys (Yitskhok Bashevis), in Literarishe bleter (January 7, 1927); Bashevis, in Forverts (May 7, 1955); Bashevis, Mayn tatns bezdn shtub (My father’s rabbinical court) (New York, 1956), pp. 151, 162, 254-59, 277-88, 295, 301-2, 308, 315; A. M. Fuks, in Literarishe bleter (March 11, 1927); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (May 1924); Niger, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (May 1928); Niger, in Tog (New York) (November 6, 1932); Niger, in Tsukunft (February 1933; December 1933; December 1936; June 1937); Niger, in Tog morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 21, 1954); Niger, Habikoret uveayoteha (Inquiry and its problems) (Jerusalem, 1957), p. 530; A. Litvak, in Der veker (New York) (June 9, 1928); A. Leyeles, in In zikh (New York) 3 (1928); Leyeles, in Tog (April 17, 1954); Y. Rapoport, in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (August 4, 1932); Rapoport, in Tsukunft (March 1949); Oysgerisene bleter (Torn up pages) (Melbourne, 1957); Y. Entin, in Tsukunft (November 1932); Entin, in Pyonern-froyen (New York) (April 1944); A. Tsaytlin, in Globus (Warsaw) 6 (1932); Tsaytlin, in Blegishe bleter (Antwerp) 6 (21) (1937); Tsaytlin, preface to Zinger’s book, Fun a velt vos iz nishto mer (From a world that is no more) (New York, 1946), pp. 5-12; Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (February 26, 1960); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (November 11, 1932; May 19, 1933; May 17, 1935); Ab. Cahan, in Forverts (May 21, 1932); H. Rogof, in Forverts (April 23, 1932; June 9, 1932; December 1, 1932); Rogof, in Ilustrirte literarishe bleter (Buenos Aires) 13-14 (September 1954); Rogof, Der gayst fun forverts (The spirit of the Forverts) (New York, 1954); Y. Botoshanski, Portretn fun yidishe shrayber (Portraits of Yiddish writers) (Warsaw, 1933); Botoshanski, in Der veg (Mexico City) (June 21, 1947); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog (February 22 1933; February 27, 1933); Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (November 18, 1954); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (February 16-17, 1934; January 10, 1952); Ravitsh, in Tsukunft (October 1939; March 1944); Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945); Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 14, 1954); Ravitsh, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (Rosh Hashanah issue, 1957); Ravitsh, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 35 (1959), pp. 114-45; Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Unzer veg (New York) (December 15, 1941); Bikl, in Zamlbikher (New York) 6 (1946); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958), pp. 317-27; D. Eynhorn, in Forverts (February 19, 1944); Y. Y. Zinger, in Forverts (June 7, 1942); Y. Y. Trunk, in Poylishe yidn (Polish Jews), yearbook (1942); Trunk, in Tsukunft (March 1944); Trunk, Di yidishe proze in poyln in der tekufe tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes (Yiddish prose in Poland in the era between the two world wars) (Buenos Aires, 1949), pp. 108-20; Trunk, Poyln, zikhroynes un bilder (Poland, memories and images), vol. 7 (New York, 1944), p. 101; B. Rivkin, in Epokhe (New York) 13-14-15 (1944); Rivkin, Undzere prozaiker (Our prose writers) (New York, 1951), pp. 264-73; R. Omri, preface to Mishene evre havisla (From both sides of the Vistula) (Jerusalem, 1945); Sh. Saymon (Solomon Simon), Kinder-yorn fun yidishe shrayber (The youths of Yiddish writers), vol. 2 (New York, 1945), pp. 145-208; Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrentn nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of scorched yesterdays) (Buenos Aires, 1946), pp. 16, 97, 220; Moyshe Shtarkman, in Hadoar (New York) (May 23, 1947); N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (April 14, 1947); Y. Opatoshu, in Zamlbikher 7 (1948), pp. 453-59; Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York) (1949); Sh. Perlmuter, Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-kompozitorn (Yiddish playwrights and theatrical composers) (New York, 1952), pp. 306-11; Y. Mestl, 70 yor teater-repertuar (Seventy years of theater repertoire) (New York, 1954), see index; B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), pp. 174, 175, 212, 266; E. Almi, In gerangl fun ideyen, eseyen (Struggling with idea, essays) (Buenos Aires, 1957), pp. 122-25; H. Lang, in Forverts (November 7, 1959); Dr. A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), pp. 304-9; The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 9 (New York, 1943).
Zaynvl Diamant

[1] English by Maurice Samuel and later by Joseph Singer (The Brothers Ashkenazi); Spanish: Los hermanos Ashkenazi; Dutch by Alice Schrijver (De gebroeders Aschkenazi).  Also in Italian translation by Claudio Magris (Il fratelli Ashkenazi); French by Marie-Brunette Spire (Les Frères Ashkenazi, roman); Hebrew by David Sivan (Haaim ashkenazi); Norwegian by Finn Halvorsen (Brødrene Ashkenazi); Russian by Velvl Tchernin (Brat’ia Ashkenazi); Polish by Maria Krych (Bracia Aszkenazy); German by Gertrud Baruch (Die Brüder Aschkenasi: Roman); Hungarian by Dezsényi Katalin (Az Askenázi fivérek); Swedish by David Belin (Bröderna Aschkenazi, roman); Danish by Peter Christiansen (Brødrene Askenazi). (JAF)

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