Israel Joshua Singer, Yiddish writer, was born on November 30, 1893, in Bigoraj, Poland. The son of a rabbi, he studied the Talmud as a boy, but at seventeen he developed more worldly interests that led him finally to newspaper work. In 1922 he became the Warsaw representative of the Jewish Daily Forward. The paper sent him to Russia in 1926 and made him an editor when he emigrated to the United States in 1934.
Perl, un andere dertseylungen, his first volume of stories, was highly successful in Europe, and it was followed by more stories and a book about Russia, but Singer’s reputation rests on three novels: Yoshe Kalb, published in English first as The Sinner and reissued as Yoshe Kalb in 1965; The Brothers Ashkenazi, translated in 1936 and sent through eleven editions before 1939; and East of Eden, translated in 1939. The Brothers Ashkenazi shows the social, economic, and political forces that affect an industrial town in Poland in the course of the nineteenth century and focuses on the contrasting fortunes of twin brothers. The more somber East of Eden traces the desperate careers of the members of a poor, dispossessed family and particularly of the son who turns hopefully to communism, only to be bitterly disillusioned. Often hailed as Singer’s greatest work, Yoshe Kalb treats a homeless wanderer who appears to have two distinctly different personalities. Maurice Schwartz, the great Yiddish actor, wrote and starred in a stage version of the novel. In terms of critical reception and audience reaction, the play was one of the most successful Yiddish dramas ever produced.
Until his death, I. J. Singer was one of the most popular Yiddish writers in America, but after his death, he was overshadowed by his younger brother, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.