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October 05, 1984 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-05

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Friday, October 5, 198* 39

or ...-614-* ro


1.B. Singer's Cinderella sister

Special to The Jewish News

What happens when Cinderella
doesn't get to go to the ball? What
if the fairy godmother is occupied
elsewhere when the dancing be-
_gins? After her siblings go off in
their finery, what else can Cin-
derella do besides moan her fate
and go on cleaning the kitchen?
She can, if she wants to, write a
novel about her predicament.
In her reasonably analogous
Q ituation, that is what Hinde
2sther Kreitman did. She was the
sister of Israel Joshua Singer and
Isaac Bashevis Singer, the two
great Yiddish novelists of the
20th Century. When as a child she
heard her father, the Reb Pinchos
Mindel, speculate on the promis-
-1.tg future of one of the two boys,
she asked her father, ". e. e. what
> am I going to be one day?" Reb
Pinchos Mendel's answer was,
"What are you going to be one
day? Nothing, of course."
As if this were not devastating
enough, Esther's mother had re-
;2,bcted her at birth because as the
first-born she had the chutzpah to
be a female instead of a male.
Handed over to a wet-nurse, she
spent her first years sleeping in a
',cot under a table. Cinderella
couldn't have had it any worse.
Yet, today, part of Esther
Kreitman's story is one of the best
known in the Jewish world. The
irony is that hardly anyone knows
it is her story. For she is the Yeltl
of I.B. Singer's tale — and of
Barbra Streisand's movie. It's
curious that with all the publicity
'surrounding both the recent reis-
suing of Y entl, the Yeshiva Boy in
f.,eparate book form and in
Streisand's film version, Singer,
- to my knowledge, has never men-
tioned the facts that he even had a
sister and that she was the source
for his inspired story.
He was outspoken in his criti-
, ci'sm of Streisand's musical movie,
but apart from complaining that
she took on too much being direc-
tor, producer and star, he never
said what really -troubled him.
, Reading Deborah (St. Martin's
'–lpress), Kreitman's thinly-veiled
autobiographical novel, now
..Jailable in America for the first
time, one begins to wonder if
Singer's sensitivity to Streisand's
Yentl has its origins in his benign
neglect of his sister during her
lifetime and since. He never hesi-
tates to resurrect the memory and
rwutation of their brother, Israel
Joshua, referring to him in a
major address last June as "my
master, my teacher." Of his sister,
not a word.
Esther actually began to write
before either of her brothers. But
unlike them, as a girl she was sub-
, .:_cted to a repressive shtetl men-
tality which regarded her as little
more than a menial servant.
About that she would he bitter all
her life. She got her education in
spite of endless- obstacles. Filled
ith modern ideas and romantic
notions, she nonetheless re-
•i-Lained the dutiful daughter,
allowing her parents to arrange a
loveless marriage to an unem-
ployed diamond cutter in
Antwerp. She was, furthermore,



TIr. Joseph Cohen is director of
the Jewish studies program at
Tulane University.

persuaded to burn her manuL
scripts lest on the journey to join
her husband she be mistaken by
the authorities as a revolution-
The marriage, which produced
one son, was an unhappy one.
When World War I broke out, the
couple left Antwerp for London.
There "Cinderella" Kreitman re-
mained a kitchen drudge until
1926 when she returned to War-
saw for a family visit, intending to
leave her husband. After three
months, the family sent her back
to him. During her Polish sojourn,
however, she saw how famous her
brothers had become as writers
and she resolved to take up her
pen again.
Subject to recurrent illnesses,
many of them neurotic in nature,
Esther took refuge in her stories
and found in them the little hap-
piness she was to have. Her novel
translated as
Diamonds, was published in Lon-
don in 1944. Der Shedem Tanz
(Pandemonium) first appeared in
Warsaw in 1936 and was pub-
lished in London in 1946 as De-
borah. It is this translation, made
by her son, Maurice, which is now
back in print, with an illuminat-
ing introduction by Clive Sinclair.
Another book Yichus, Kreit:
man's short stories, came out in
London in 1949. • Though true
fame eluded her, she was not un-
known, having become a favorite
in the post World War II Yiddish-
ist circle of London. For a little
while she, like Cinderella, got to
dance at the ball. And then it was
midnight. She died in 1954.
Though Deborah has some
stylistic limitations, the transla-
tion reads well, sustaining a lusty
Yiddish vitality. It does not reach
the virtuoso heights I.B. Singer
ascends seemingly without effort.
Still, the novel is no unsophisti-
cated amateurish effort either. It
contains some striking parallels
with Singer's work.
Though brother and sister lived
their lives far apart from each
other, both were attracted to the
Warsaw Jewish underworld and
used it to narrative advantage.
Kreitman's Jewish criminals, like
Singer's, are depicted with gusto.
And Kreitman's views of life in
the poor Jewish district of War-
saw, in Krochmalna Street where
the family actually resided, com-
pare favorably with Singer's de-
But if Kreitman shared some
literary perspectives with her
brother, she left them behind
when it came to the characteriza-
tion of women. Singer's women, as
we know only too well, are notori-
ous. Most of them are evil and dis-
solute. Kreitman's protagonist,
however, manages against over-
whelming odds to keep her
womanly worth, winning the
reader's sympathy despite her of-
tentimes uninspired opposition to
the males who dominate her life.
She achieves a measure of nobil-
ity in her attempt to resist being
regarded as a non-person, and in
this respect, Deborah can profita-
bly be read as a saga in the strug-
gle for the rights of Jewish
What her brother has often de-
prived Jewish women of, Cin-
derella Kreitman has restored.



would like to thank
her children,
friends and
relatives for their
many expressions
of sympathy
during her recent


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