Chidusz 1/2021: Israel Singer’s Pearls and a bold letter to Philip Roth

In this issue of Chidusz we present you with a lot of good Jewish literature: the first Polish translation of Israel Singer’s Pearls and a bold letter to Philip Roth, in which the author, Elisa Albert, begs the great Jewish American writer to… put a baby in her. 


Etta, Bessie, Dora or Rose

We open this issue of Chidusz with a story by Elisa Albert from her critically acclaimed debut collection How this Night is Different. The protagonist – Albert’s alter ego – feeling that in one moment her whole life has fallen apart, desperately searches for a way to restore its meaning. She writes a bold, slightly fanatical and very cheeky letter to Philip Roth (once hated misogynist, now beloved genius), offering him to… put a baby in her.

Translated by Jolanta Różyło.

“Roth,” I would spit contemptuously whenever the subject of your books came up, “Yuck.” Yuck because in the defensively perceived Shiksa-obsession and sexual dysfunction and casual dismissal of Jewish women and mockery of everything religiously, spiritually meaningful in Judaism itself, I was transported right back to Ramah, to being ignored and overlooked, to being made to feel freakish for my aesthetic, my sensibility, my desire for connection and friendship and love, to the weekly advent of the holy Sabbath as purely an opportunity for us girls to look our prettiest and amass sexually explicit Shabbat-O-Grams from heavily-gelled-and-cologned boys, to the years-long, unrequited torment of a crush on a smarmy staff Rabbinical student whose engaging smirks of dismissal I took as signals of subverted lust. Yuck because in Roth were Justin Steinberg and Eric Landsman and Ron Frank, those United Synagogue Youth fuckwads with their hemp necklaces and hackey-sacks and Phish tickets and body-hair aversions embodied in a universal fetishization of Asian women. I didn’t matter. I was powerless. I was overlooked. I had to hate you. 



Celebrating publication of the first Polish translation of Israel Singer’s collection Pearls, we give you part one of the eponymous story, written by Singer in Kiev in 1919. According to Abraham Cahan, editor of the American Forwerts, the story of a jeweler suffering from tuberculosis and trying to escape inevitable death has many characteristics of the power of the young artist’s imagination – Singer was Cahan’s “greatest discovery” among Eastern European Yiddish writers. The editor praised Singer for his “literary power”, “untutored talent” for depiction, insight and dedication to each milieu that appears in his stories.

Thanks to the courtesy of Fame Art publishing house, in this and the next issue of Chidusz we publish part one and two of Pearls. Another Singer’s story entitled Magda will be presented in the March issue of the magazine (both stories translated by Krzysztof Modelski).


Great Vision. Small Life

Jaff Schatz in a conversation with Katarzyna Andersz: “Most of those whose life became a pretext to create the myth of »Żydokomuna«, ironically, did everything they could to become non-Jews. For them, communism presented an opportunity to escape their Jewishness – either into the sea of Polishness, or towards some future society without nationalities in which one – instead of being a Jew or a Greek – could simply be a human.”

At the end of last year, almost thirty years after its English edition, Jewish Historical Institute announced Polish publication of Schatz’s book The Generation: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland. The author confronts the myths of “Żydokomuna” and “overrepresentation of Jews in communist circles”, claiming that his goal is not to prove the falsity of the stereotype, but to paint a picture of a life path of a unique generation – Jews born before the war who survived the Holocaust in the USSR, then built a new post-war Poland, and were expelled from it after March ’68. 


I Dedicate the Mornings to the Mezuzas

“In Europe, only Orthodox Jews produce kosher parchment. They don’t want to sell it to me. Why? Because I’m a woman. My supplier from Brooklyn is also an Orthodox Jew but fortunately he has no problem trading with women.” In a conversation with Anna Pamuła, Ermeline Rachel Vicaire, one of the first European soferot, talks about female ritual scribes.


The Necessity of Windows 

Menachem Creditor’s queer commenatry to parashat Yitro

Jethro’s open offer of criticism, and Moses’s easy acceptance of this unsolicited advice, offers us a model of open communication. Few people show each other such mutual respect and acceptance as Moses and Jethro. But the most significant lesson of this conversation between Moses and Jethro only becomes readily apparent when we remember that Jethro was not an Israelite. Although his daughter, Zipporah, married Moses and played a crucial role in the birth of the Jewish nation, Jethro was a Midianite priest, someone completely external to Israelite culture—a true outsider. And yet it is Jethro’s “outsider” perspective and wisdom that saves the day, inspiring Moses to set up the system of judges that became a hallmark of Jewish notions of justice and community.


Der Shvartser Yunger-mantshik 

In the next episode of Yankev Dinezon’s Der Shvartser Yunger-mantshik (The Dark Young Man) Rosa confronts Moshe Shneur, revealing that she knows all about his diabolic plan to destroy Josef, and… asks him for mercy. What will Moshe have to say to her?

Translated from Yiddish by Magdalena Wójcik.


The Glory in Creation: Valuing Biodiversity

Eko-rabbi Shaul David Judelman on biodiversity in the Torah: 

This biodiversity can be a source of wisdom and inspiration for human beings. Scattered across the Oral Tradition are recordings of our Torah sages with appreciation of the great intricacies in the natural world. For example, Psalm 104 teaches us about the habitats of many animals and the perfection with which they fit into the natural order: “As for the stork, the cypress trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; the rocks for the badgers.” Ethics of the Fathers further teaches us what we can learn from other species: “Yehudah Ben Teima says, be bold like a leopard, with ease like an eagle, run like a deer and be valiant like a lion to do the Will of your Father in Heaven.”


Pay Them Their Wages Each Day Before Sunset

Did you know that in Gemara, the Rabbis allow the city authorities to seize the property of someone who is withholding payments and avoiding paying taxes?

Joanna Maria Machel on the rights of employees and employers in the Torah.


Click here to read about this issue’s content in Polish.