Gershon Hepner

Jews Have Nothing in Common with Haman: An opinion 9/2/23

Finding nothing in the whole world in common with

himself, Kafka asked why men seemed to expect

him to resemble any of his kin or kith

or other member of the “usually suspect”  sect?

This view of Kafka of himself was quite mistaken,

with many of the words he weirdly wrote

recalling Jonah after he had God forsaken,

though unlike him, not thrown out of his boat.

Since many views do not have much in common

with Jewish mores, we’re hardly then surprised

when they malign our nation as a hateful Homon,

mad militarists, they say should be despised.

Kafka once wrote in his diary: “What have I in common with other Jews?  I have hardly anything in common even with myself and should stand very quietly in the corner, content that I can breathe” (“Yesterday with the Jews,” by Matthew Goodman, Pakn Treger, 31: 16-19, 1999).  Goodman points out that when Kafka encountered Yiddish theater from Lemberg he found a folk tradition that was thrillingly alive, a tradition that he was able to embrace rather than fear and reject. He claimed that Yiddish could be understood intuitively by Jews once it takes hold of them.  “Yiddish is everything, the words, the Hasidic melody and the essential character of this Eastern Jewish actor himself…Then you will come to feel the true unity of Yiddish, and so strongly that it will frighten you — yet it will no longer be fear of Yiddish but of yourselves.”

In “Yiddish Is Having a Moment,” NYT, 9/2/23, Ilan Stavans, a professor of humanities and Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. writes:

For a language without a physical address that has come frighteningly close to extinction, Yiddish’s will to live seems inexhaustible. The lesson is simple and straightforward: Survival is an act of stubbornness…..

….The superb stories of its founder, the Baal Shem Tov, and his descendants, including Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslev, his great-grandson, were, for the most part, disseminated in Yiddish. Rabbi Nakhman is considered a forerunner of Franz Kafka’s worldview on fate as being shaped by obscure, mysterious, perhaps divine drive. Fittingly, Kafka studied the language and in 1912 even delivered a speech in Yiddish.

Ilan Stavans, however, shamefully ends his article by implicitly denigrating Hebrew, the national language of the state of Israel, spoken by about nine million people, as a language that for  some “symbolizes far-right Israeli militarism.”

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at