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A Celebration of Isaac Bashevis Singer at Moravian College – October 21

Bethlehem, Pa.—Moravian College’s Reeves Library is one of 60 libraries nationwide to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to observe the centenary of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

The Singer observance at Moravian will feature a slide-lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Shandler of Rutgers University on the shtetl as it has been used by Singer and other writers of Eastern European Jewish life. “Shtetl” is a work of Slavic derivation that means “cluster,” and it has come to mean the self-sufficient Jewish communities connected to peasant villages in 19th-century Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

In the course of his 87 years (1904-1991), Isaac Bashevis Singer enjoyed an impressive career as a writer, first in his native Warsaw and later in the United States, to which he emigrated in 1935. Singer’s literary output includes short stories, novels, children’s books, and his memoirs, as well as articles, reviews, and essays. By the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he was one of the foremost Yiddish writers of the 20th century. In addition, he won two National Book Awards. Among the films made from Singer’s stories are Yentl the Yeshiva Boy (which became a vehicle for Barbra Streisand in 1983 and won an Academy Award for its music) and Enemies: a Love Story (1989), which garnered three Academy Award nominations.

Singer reflected his own experiences in his writing, depicting the painful problems of adjustment to America experienced by European Jewish émigrés. But his work is most notable for the way he vividly recreated for an English-speaking and reading public Jewish life as it was lived in Eastern Europe in the decades before World War II.

Dr. Shandler will give his presentation at 8 p.m. Thursday, October 21, 2004, in Prosser Auditorium at the Haupert Union Building. Shandler, a scholar of modern Jewish culture, is assistant professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers. His Ph.D.is in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University. He has been a Dorot Teaching Fellow in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University and a post- doctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication and the Center for Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania. He also has taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Tel Aviv University, and Vassar College.

Shandler has written and lectured extensively on modern Yiddish culture, American reactions to the Holocaust, and the role that broadcasting, photography, film, and other media play in modern Jewish life. His books include While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust (1999), awarded the Saul Viener Prize by the American Jewish Historical Society. He edited Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust (2002), which was a Dorot Jewish Book Award finalist. Other publications include Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting, (co-author/co-editor with J. Haberman) (2003); Remembering the Lower East Side: American Jewish Reflections (co-edited with Hasia Diner and Beth S. Wenger); and Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of Eastern European Jewish Life before World War II (co-edited with Dina Abramowicz). He also has curated exhibits for The Jewish Museum in New York, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He is completing a study of Yiddish culture after World War II

His presentation at Moravian, “Remembering the Shtetl: Isaac Bashevis Singer and Beyond,” will examine the ways that writers, artists, scholars, photographers, and others have sought ways to record Jewish life in those Eastern European Jewish communities that have largely disappeared. Though focused on Singer, he will discuss such artists as painter Marc Chagall and photographer Roman Vishniac, as well as amateur writers and painters who drew on their own memories of growing up in a shtetl in the first decades of the 20th century.

Finally, Shandler will touch on the remembrance of shtetl life in works of popular literature and entertainment as well as museum displays, and he will describe plans to build a full-scale “living history” shtetl in Israel.