Kaf­ka and Cul­tur­al Zion­ism: Dates in Palestine

Iris Bruce
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

If Kafka’s writ­ings at first read appear to be sec­u­lar and/​or satir­i­cal of Jews, Iris Bruce shows us oth­er­wise. Bruce says, “…it is my con­tention that Kaf­ka did not repress half as much as crit­ics have assumed and that his lit­er­a­ture con­tains more con­tem­po­rary social real­i­ty than is gen­er­al­ly acknowledged.” 

Raised in a fam­i­ly of assim­i­lat­ed, pros­per­ous Jews, Kaf­ka knew lit­tle about tra­di­tion or rit­u­al. It was his father’s plan to keep an ambigu­ous cul­tur­al affil­i­a­tion to pro­tect his fam­i­ly from anti-Semit­ic riots.” We read that Kaf­ka, over time and with exten­sive study, expo­sure to rich folk­loric tra­di­tion via the Yid­dish the­atre, and per­son­al intro­spec­tion, devel­oped a sense of iden­ti­ty to Judaism and then Zion­ism, with an unful­filled wish to emi­grate to Pales­tine. We are shown that ulti­mate­ly, it was not reli­gious faith or rit­u­al that Kaf­ka want­ed. He cared about peo­ple and being part of a com­mu­ni­ty.” His was a cul­tur­al, human­ist Zionism. 

In sev­en dis­tinct sec­tions, set in and around Prague, we meet his fam­i­ly, his friends, col­leagues, and the full spec­trum of Jews in Czecho­slo­va­kia and East­ern Europe at the turn of the cen­tu­ry. This schol­ar­ly vol­ume, with metic­u­lous doc­u­men­ta­tion, does require some pri­or knowl­edge of Kafka’s writ­ing and the intel­lec­tu­al cir­cles in which he trav­eled. Abbre­vi­a­tions, index, notes, works cited.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

Discussion Questions