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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 799

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This is the grave of Israel Joshua Singer.

Born in 1893 in Poland, Singer grew up in a strongly religious and intellectual family. His father was a rabbi. His brother became the famous writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and his sister was Esther Kreitman, who became a leading Yiddish novelist herself. Evidently, their mother was pretty rough and did not show any love, which deeply effected all the children, though it seems Esther the most as she was the oldest.

From his early 20s, Singer was an important figure in the Yiddish press. He moved to the Soviet Union in 1919, enamored of the Bolshevik Revolution. He stayed there two years before moving to Warsaw, where life was easier. He also rapidly became disillusioned with the Soviets and also felt dissed by Soviet Jewish writers. His writing got notice from Abraham Cahan, editor of the Daily Forward. Cahan started publishing Singer’s work. Singer became publishing a lot more fiction as well, including his short story “Liuk” about the difficulties of the Bolshevik Revolution and his 1927 novel Steel and Iron and then a series of additional stories and novels. Perhaps his most famous work is The Brothers Ashkenazy, from 1936. His work was seen as politically naive, but those criticisms were mostly from communist writers and he basically rejected them as illegitimate. His novels got more attention and were increasingly translated for the Yiddish stage, evidently to mixed effect. In 1934, Cahan brought him to the U.S. to work for the Forward full time. Singer, nervous about the rise of the Nazis, jumped at the opportunity. The next year, he managed to bring his brother Isaac as well, who also worked for the Forward. During World War II, he briefly flirted with Zionism, though seemingly against his will. He hated the idea of Jewish nationalism, but the experience of the people he knew in Poland dying began to change him. Overall, his work was known to be deeply cutting of Jewish life and full of pessimism for the future. This made his legacy decisively unpopular after World War II, when surviving Jews, now largely in Israel, had little interest in critical visions of their lost communities.

Unfortunately, Singer died of a heart attack in 1944. He was 50 years old.

Israel Joshua Singer is buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery, Queens, New York.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit other Jewish authors, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Isaac Bashevis Singer is buried in Paramus, New Jersey and Joseph Heller is in East Hampton, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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