New York Jewish Film Festival Opener: “The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer”

2-Singer_001_LGThe ghost of Isaac Bashevis Singer got lucky. Two Israeli filmmakers—male – have handed the master of Yiddish tales a posthumous grand slam. He gets the first word and the last cinematic image on his definition of paradise—a harem of translators, all women.

The U.S. premiere of “The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer,” the 2014 English-Yiddish-Hebrew documentary directed by Asaf Galay and Shaul Betser, opened the 24th New York Jewish Film Festival on January 14th.

Aside from his first and most famous translator, Saul Bellow (he translated “Gimpel the Fool”), and Singer’s son, seemingly all his dozens of translators were harem material.

We see footage of Singer surrounded by a bevy of young beauties asking him questions like, “Why do you write in Yiddish?” “Because I dream in Yiddish, and you should always write in the language you dream in.”

The 72-minute film brings together a seemingly endless parade of Singer’s translators. It’s a lighthearted journey to honky tonk piano and silent-movie-style scene cards in Yiddish and English.

Few of the women interviewed fault him for his sexual advances, though one, Evelyn Torton Beck, says, “I think I’m very, very lucky he never put the make on me.” (Read what she wrote for Lilith about his misogyny here.) Another translator says, “He slept with all his translators. Except me.” Could the tales of Singer’s irresistible charm have been a bit apocryphal?

2 comments on “New York Jewish Film Festival Opener: “The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer”

  1. Susie Dworkin on

    Translating has often served as a euphemism for rewriting, and a cover for serious intellectual exploitation.. Check out Louis Ginsburg’s relationship with Henrietta Szold. And for a truly profound take on Singer and his translators, read Cynthia Ozick’s brilliant novella, ENVY OR YIDDISH IN AMERICA. The audio version by Ron Rifkin is great too.

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