Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1904–1991) By Furnish, Ben
Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland, where his father was a Hasidic rabbi. He grew up between 1908–1917 in Warsaw and from 1917–1921 in Bilgoray (Biłgoraj), which shaped his knowledge of small-town Jewish life. The younger brother of Yiddish writers Israel Joshua Singer and Esther Kreitman, Singer began reading secular literature at 10, and after years of religious study, he eventually followed his brother into Warsaw’s bohemian literary Yiddish community, translating several modern writers into Yiddish.
Singer’s first novel, Der Sotn in Goray [Satan in Goray], set in seventeenth-century Poland with the background of pogroms and the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi, appeared in 1934, and the next year, he joined Israel Joshua in New York City where both wrote for the Yiddish press. In 1950, Singer married Alma Haimann Wassermann, a German Jewish immigrant from a once-wealthy family, who supported the couple by working as a retail clerk. Singer wrote in Yiddish for his entire life; most of his novels were serialized in the Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish newspaper. Unlike most great Yiddish writers, he found success in translation, particularly after Saul Bellow’s translation of the story ‘Gimpel the Fool’ appeared in Partisan Review in 1953.