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The Sister

Lawrence Bush
June 12, 2017

Yiddish writer Esther Kreitman, sister to the world-famous I.B. Singer and Yiddish writer I.J. Singer, died in London at age 63 on this date in 1954. Kreitman was a highly intelligent child who, as a girl, was denied education and attention in her Orthodox family. According to Faith Jones at the Jewish Women’s Archive, Kreitman “nevertheless learned to read several languages and became interested in world literature. In her youth she wrote stories, which she never intended for publication and eventually destroyed, well before her younger brothers had taken up their pens.” Escaping through an arranged marriage, she lived in London and published her first novel, Der Sheydims Tants (Dance of the Demons), in Poland in 1926 (translated into English by her son in 1946 as Deborah). Her second novel, Brilyantn (Diamonds), came out in 1944, and a volume of short stories, Yikhes (Lineage), in 1949. She also translated Dickens and Shaw into Yiddish and was active in literary and socialist circles. Kreitman’s portrayals of traditional Jewish life “could be said to be unflinchingly critical in the face of male sentimentality” among male Yiddish writers, notes Jones. “. . . [R]elations both between men and women and among women are tainted as insincere, exploitative, and competitive. This quality is not found in her short stories, which include many positive and hopeful endings, and many characters who are able to comfort and support each other and to transform themselves.”

“Bashevis’s story ‘Yentl the Yeshiva Boy’ is said to have been based, in part, on his sister’s thwarted desire for education; feminist critics see it as a literary appropriation curiously devoid of empathy, especially given Bashevis’s lack of real-life aid to Kreitman’s literary or personal ambitions.” --Faith Jones

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.