Saturday, January 13, 2024

Q&A with David Stromberg



David Stromberg is the translator and editor of the new book Writings on Yiddish and Yiddishkayt: The War Years, 1939-1945. It focuses on the wartime writings of author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991). Stromberg's other books include In the Land of Happy Tears. He lives in Jerusalem.


Q: Why did you decide to edit Isaac Bashevis Singer's wartime writings?


A: I've been working on various aspects of Singer's writing for over a decade and one of the major aspects of this effort has been to expose readers to the writer they know less – the intellectual who was writing all of the time on a variety of topics.


Readers and critics see Singer as a storyteller, which he certainly was, but there's been far less emphasis on his nonfiction and the way it informed and enriched his fiction. This project is part of filling that gap.


Q: One of the first pieces in the book focuses on the idea of the dybbuk. What do you think of Singer's views on that topic?


A: The dybbuk is both a trope in Jewish culture and a phenomenon in its history.


What's interesting about Singer's approach is that he describes both aspects of the dybbuk – the practical aspect of people who actually believe they are possessed, and those who believe them too, as well as the spiritual or psychological aspect, which has more to do with how an individual experiences the feeling of being possessed.


Q: Singer wrote a series of articles about the impact of World War II on Jewish life. What would you say are some of the most important themes in these pieces?


A: I'd say the most important theme in these pieces has to do with the living aspect of Jewish life and tradition.


We need to remember that describing the past is different than getting across the living sense of why this past was actually important to people in real time and what kind of spiritual strength it gave them. Singer focused squarely on this aspect of the topic.


Q: The last piece in the book focuses on the idea of Yiddish literature after the Holocaust. What do you think he hoped to achieve in writing this essay?


A: Writing about Jewish life after the destruction of European Jewry becomes a mission in itself. Again, it's the spiritual element that's important, not the sociological or anthropological aspect, and this is what Singer says we need to understand, internalize, and revitalize.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The next volume in the series – which will cover the postwar years, 1946-1955.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The pieces are most productive, I think, when read alongside the fiction Singer was writing at the same time. I suggest reading his stories narrated from the perspective of the yeytser-hore, the Evil Spirit, and seeing how they relate to the nonfiction.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with David Stromberg.

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