Tag Archives: Czech Jews

Jew of the Week: Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was born near Prague to Yiddish-speaking parents, the grandson of a shochet (kosher meat slaughterer). His Jewish education culminated with his bar mitzvah, after which he went to the prestigious Altstädter Deutsches Gymnasium. He enrolled to study chemistry in university, but quickly switched to law. After graduating, he worked for various insurance companies – a job that he despised, but which allowed him to make a living. The little time that he had off work he would spend writing. Kafka composed dozens of stories, novels (most of them unfinished), essays, letters and diaries. Ninety percent of these he burned. In his will, he instructed his friend Max Brod to destroy the remainder of his writings. Brod ignored the request, and published them instead. Thus, Kafka was virtually unknown in his own lifetime, but became hugely famous after his death. It is believed that there are still thousands of unpublished Kafka works. He is considered by many to be the greatest writer of the 20th century, and some of his writings have been ranked among the most influential of that century. He has inspired the adjective “kafkaesque”, and has an asteroid named after him. Besides writing, Kafka was an avid swimmer, hiker, and rower, studied alternative medicine, and was a vegetarian. After once seeing a Yiddish play, he immersed himself in Jewish study. In addition to Yiddish, Kafka spoke German, Czech, French, and studied both Hebrew and classical Greek. Towards the end of his life he intended to immigrate to Israel. This wish did not come to be, as Kafka succumbed to tuberculosis at a young age. His three sisters perished in the Holocaust. For what would be his 130th birthday today, he is honoured with a Google Doodle.

 

Words of the Week

Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.
– Franz Kafka 

Jew of the Week: Louis Brandeis

Robin Hood of the Law

Louis Brandeis

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was born in Kentucky to Jewish immigrants from Prague. Despite his own family’s secularism, Brandeis’ role model and inspiration growing up was his uncle Naphtali Dembitz, a religious Jew, and in his honour Brandeis changed his middle name to Dembitz. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he achieved the highest grade point average in the school’s history – a record that stood for 80 years. This distinction, among others, led to his acceptance to the Massachussets bar without even taking the exam! Working at a Boston law firm, Brandeis quickly became famous as the “People’s Lawyer”, always defending the little guy, focusing on the public good, and refusing to take cases where he believed the defendant was guilty. Brandeis fought successfully against corruption, corporate power and consumerism, monopolies and banks; he fought for healthy workplace hours and wages, better living conditions for the poor and a host of other public causes. More amazingly, he stopped accepting payment for this work. In 1916, Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court, one of the most controversial events in U.S. political history. It caused such a great furor that for the first time ever a public hearing was held. Brandeis was termed “dangerous”, not only because he was a Jew, but as was later said, “because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible…” Brandeis’ confirmation to the Supreme Court came a month later, in a process that normally took a single day. He would serve as supreme court justice for 23 years. Meanwhile, Brandeis was also a lifelong Zionist, and served as president of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs. In his later years he donated generously to Israel. Nicknamed ‘Robin Hood of the Law’, he is most remembered for upholding free speech and individual privacy, crusading for the public, and revolutionizing many aspects of American law. Brandeis passed away on the eve of Sukkot.

Words of the Week

He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
– Confucius