(JTA) – Franz Kafka was a devotee of Yiddish theater, fell in love with his Hebrew teacher and once encountered the owner of a brothel he frequented in synagogue on Yom Kippur.
The broad strokes of Kafka’s biography have long been known to historians, but a new English translation of the Czech author’s complete and unabridged diaries gives readers the fullest possible picture of his complex, contradictory relationship with Judaism. For an author most famous for his depictions of loneliness, alienation and unyielding bureaucracy, Kafka often saw in Judaism an opportunity to forge a shared community.
“The beautiful strong separations in Judaism,” he praises at one point, in a disjointed style that is a hallmark of his diaries. “One gets space. One sees oneself better, one judges oneself better.”
Later, writing about a Yiddish play he found particularly moving, Kafka reflected on its depiction of “people who are Jews in an especially pure form, because they live only in the religion but live in it without effort, understanding or misery.” He was also involved with several local Zionist organizations, and toward the end of his life fell in love with Dora Diamant, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi who taught him Hebrew (though she receives scant mention in the diaries).
“The Diaries of Franz Kafka,” translated by Ross Benjamin and out this week from Penguin Random House, collects every entry of the writer’s personal diaries covering the period from 1908 until 1923, the year before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 41.
Although versions of Kafka’s diaries had previously been published thanks to the efforts of his Jewish friend and literary executor Max Brod (with translation assistance from Hannah Arendt), they had been heavily doctored with many passages expunged, including some of what Kafka had written about his own understanding of Judaism. A German-language edition of the unabridged diaries was published in 1990.
The author of “The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial” and “The Castle” was raised by a non-observant father in Prague, and he hated the small amounts of Jewish culture he was exposed to at a young age, including his own bar mitzvah. In addition, the city’s largely assimilated German-speaking Jewish population tended to look down on poorer, Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews.
But Kafka’s diaries also reveal a growing fascination with Jewish culture in young adulthood, particularly around a traveling Yiddish theater troupe from Poland whom he saw perform nearly two dozen times. He developed a close relationship with the company’s lead actor, Jizchak Löwy, and would host recitation events where he’d give Löwy the opportunity to perform stories of Jewish life in Warsaw.
Kafka himself would even write and deliver an introduction to these performances in Yiddish. He would also witness his own father harboring prejudices towards his new friend Löwy: “My father about him: He who lies down in bed with dogs gets up with bugs.”
“The Metamorphosis” famously revolves around a man who inexplicably is transformed into a bug and then is rejected harshly by his family. In his introduction, Benjamin notes, “Scholars have suggested that such tropes, prevalent as they were in the antisemitic culture in which Kafka reckoned with his own Jewishness, influenced the themes of his fiction.”
Some of Kafka’s more ambiguous comments about his Jewish brethren were previously removed by Brod, according to Benjamin’s introduction to the diaries. At one point while hanging out with Löwy, Kafka invokes antisemitic stereotypes about Jewish uncleanliness: “My hair touched his when I leaned toward his head, I grew frightened due to at least the possibility of lice.” Benjamin notes: “Here Kafka confronts his own Western European Jewish anxiety about the hygiene of his Eastern European Jewish companion.”
Other revelations in the unexpurgated diaries include Kafka’s musings about his own sexuality.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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