This Hebrew School Teacher Was the First World Weightlifting Champ

Strongman, educator, culture critic, civil society leader, journalist, publisher and historian. Edward Lawrence Levy was all of these and more.

E. Lawrence Levy, ca. mid-1890s (From E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932, part of the National Library of Israel collection)

Responsible for schlepping the holy vessels through the Biblical desert, the ancient Levites were some of the original Jewish strongmen, yet for most of Jewish history feats of strength were not necessarily the forte of the “People of the Book”.

Then came “Muscular Judaism”.

In the late 19th century, as many sought to redefine what it meant to be a Jew in the modern world, efforts were made to discard the traditionally “meek” Jew who spent his time solely on intellectual pursuits.

Leading Zionist thinker Max Nordau coined the term “Muscular Judaism”. From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

One of the men at the vanguard of “Muscular Judaism” was himself a Levy, Edward Lawrence Levy to be more precise: Hebrew school master, the world’s first international weightlifting champion and a veritable “strongman” in a dizzying range of pursuits from opera to gymnastics to Jewish education, journalism and even the brewing industry…

Levy’s boyhood remains shrouded in mystery. Remarking that his “school days were not of the kind that make history, autobiographical or otherwise”, Levy intentionally begins his memoirs as he is “launched on the world” at the beginning of his professional life.

From a few details in his rare autobiography and comprehensive research published by David M. Fahey in E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932, we know that Levy was born in London and that his father died when he was six.

Destined by his head master – a surrogate father of sorts – to become either a rabbi or an educator, it became clear to young Edward that he was more suited to the latter. Already at 16 he became first master at a boarding school responsible for teaching Hebrew and Religion, Classics, French and other subjects.

Levy later recalled:

“There were boys in the Academy as old as I was, but, thanks to my being prematurely and precociously whiskered, bearded and moustached, nobody, except the Headmaster, knew it.”

Just a few years prior, his own Hebrew and Talmud teacher had told him:

“Edward, you were born old; you never were a boy.”

And so it was that the whiskered man-child “launched on the world”.

He moved to Birmingham a couple of years later and for six decades would more than dabble in countless spheres of public life.

Educator. Culture critic. Hob-nobber. Civil society leader. Philanthropist. Publisher. Historian. Strongman.

Shortly after arriving he joined the staff of the Birmingham Hebrew School. While there, he would, among other things, found the city’s first Jewish Amateur Dramatic Club in 1872, followed by the Alliance Literary and Debating Society, “somewhat avant-garde in admitting ladies,” as well as having both Jewish and non-Jewish members.

Birmingham Hebrew Congregation (Photo: Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0)

While remaining active in the Jewish community, in 1875 he went on to establish and run the “Birmingham Jewish Collegiate School”. When non-Jewish students enrolled, he renamed it the less parochial “Denbigh Lodge Collegiate School,” proud not only of the academic level, but also of its “glorious mixture of the best Jewish lads with similar Christian school fellows…”

Levy at age 24, around the time he opened his own school. From E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932, part of the National Library of Israel collection

Besides running a school, teaching, attending and critiquing theater performances, writing, and founding and serving as an active member in numerous other organizations, Levy’s interest in gymnastics and physical fitness grew as the “strongman boom” peaked and he approached his fortieth birthday in 1891.

That year, Levy won the first ever British Amateur Weightlifting Championship.

London’s Café Monico, site of the first British Amateur Weightlifting Championship and the first World Weightlifting Competition, both won by Levy in 1891 (Public domain)

He was all of five feet four and half inches (1.64 m.) tall and weighed 156 pounds (70.8 kg) “in costume”. Most of the competitive lifters of the time weighed over 200 pounds. Some were twice his weight.

Levy’s was an “unheroic mould” in his own words. A contemporary newspaper account described the champion as “… a very short man… presenting a bald head with a heavily-bearded gold spectacled face.”

Muscular Judaism.

The victory, however, did not come without a price. As the competition was on Shabbat, his participation cost him his post as synagogue choir master. Levy pontificated:

“When the recording angel puts a black mark against my name for having ridden on the Sabbath, I hope he will put down as well the distinction I brought to muscular Judaism.”

Just two months later, he won the first World Weightlifting Competition, beating out strongmen from Germany, Austria, Italy and elsewhere and officially becoming the first ever international weightlifting champion. He later recalled, “There is one great feature of the two championships I won which I cannot refrain from referring to, and that is the great joy I felt as a Jew at winning these events.”

Levy with his 1891 British Amateur Championship trophy. From E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932, part of the National Library of Israel collection

From 1891 to 1894 he would go on to set no less than 14 world records.

Though some inaccurate reports would later give Levy a gold medal in shotput at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, in reality he represented Great Britain there as a judge and a journalist, not as a participant.

“I regard the trip to Athens and participation in the Olympic Games of 1896, as one of the biggest events of my life. It was glorious from every point of view.”

Olympic Stadium, Athens, 1896 (Public domain)

Levy would lecture on those first modern Games for years to come (among many other topics from nihilism to Talmudic thought and Jewish humor).

When the King of Greece visited London in 1905, Levy was invited to greet him. Three years later he was an organizer of the gymnastics portion of the 1908 Olympics held in the city.

Already approaching 60 by then, Levy generally didn’t see a need nor have a desire to slow down.

He remained a member of the Birmingham Athletic Club for a total of 50 years, serving as chairman for 30 of them.

He was a long-time drama critic and sports writer. He also worked in various capacities in the local brewing trade, for decades somehow singlehandedly writing and publishing the industry’s Licensed Trade News, a weekly newspaper.

With his physical strength naturally diminished with age, Levy dedicated his later years largely to scholarship, lecturing and working on about eight books after his 60th birthday. Largely based on his first-hand experiences in the Jewish community, numerous political and social clubs and the local theater scene, these books provide a fascinating glimpse into late-Victorian and early 20th century England.

Levy at age 72. From E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932, part of the National Library of Israel collection

Looking back on his life and accomplishments shortly before he passed away, Levy the strongman mused:

“I have no money, never had and never shall have any. But, happily, what I have seen, what I have achieved, much of my happiness in life, has been obtained, thanks to – ‘Dumbbells, twopence a pound.’ Our worldly happiness, the success we attain is fortunately not dependent upon pounds, shillings and pence.”

Select Sources and Related Reading:

Birmingham Jewry by Zoe Josephs

E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851-1932: Sport, Culture, and Assimilation in Nineteenth-Century Britain Together with “The Autobiography of an Athlete” edited by David M. Fahey

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Did an Illicit Relationship Lead to the Expulsion of England’s Jews?

The story of two courageous converts, their Jewish wives and institutional anti-Semitism

"There was a priest who… desired a very beautiful woman…" (Image source: Rijksmuseum / Public Domain)

Little is known about Robert of Reading, a 13th century Catholic preacher who converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman, an act that some have claimed led to the Edict of Expulsion, which legally barred Jews from England for nearly four centuries.

King Edward I of England, also known as “Edward Longshanks”, issued 1290’s Edict of Expulsion, one of many sad events in Jewish history to take place on and around the somber day of Tisha B’Av (Dulwich Picture Gallery / Public Domain)

In truth, there were apparently two Roberts of Reading who converted to Judaism in 13th century England, each adopting the Hebrew name “Haggai” and marrying a Jewish wife.

The First Robert of Reading

The first Robert was a deacon and student of Hebrew at Oxford. Following his conversion to Judaism, this Robert was brought before the Archbishop of Canterbury, where evidence was presented against him, and according to the papers of preeminent English legal historian Frederic William Maitland:

“When it was seen that the deacon was circumcised, and that no argument would bring him to his senses… a cross with the Crucified was brought before him and he defiled the cross, saying, ‘I renounce the new-fangled law and the comments of Jesus the false prophet,’ and he reviled and slandered Mary the mother of Jesus, and made a charge against her not to be repeated.”

By this account, Robert was taken out and decapitated, though his wife managed to escape the same fate. The executor reportedly lamented, “I am sorry that this fellow goes to hell alone.”

The Next Robert

A few generations later, another Robert of Reading – also known as Robert de Reddinge – a Dominican friar in London, appeared on the stage of history. Like many others, Robert was tasked with trying to convert Jews to Christianity. In order to do so, he was sent to learn Hebrew.

Yet the Church’s plan seems to have backfired, as the more Hebrew and Jewish texts he mastered, the more drawn he apparently became to the maligned faith. Handed over to the Archbishop of Canterbury by King Edward himself, Robert “defended his new faith with great warmth,” according to the historian Heinrich Graetz, who believed that the conversion was genuine and not undertaken due to ulterior motives, such as the desire to marry a beautiful Jewish woman…

Illustration of Edward I appearing in A Chronicle of England, B.C. 55-A.D. 1485, available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Though this Robert’s fate remains unknown, Graetz believed that both he and his wife actually escaped to safety. Modern scholars, including Richard Huscroft in Expulsion: England’s Jewish Solution and Robin Mundill in England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion, 1262-1290, have concluded that Robert actually died in prison.

Either way, his acts clearly further enflamed the already ubiquitous English anti-Semitism.

According to Graetz’s account, the Dominicans were so embarrassed following Robert’s conversion and marriage that they quickly approached the “bigoted, avaricious queen-mother, Eleanor, [who] …first expelled the Jews from the town of Cambridge which belonged to her, and personally fostered the hostile feeling against them throughout the whole country, especially among Christian merchants.”

In fact, in 1275, the very same year that Robert converted, King Edward decreed a number of new anti-Semitic laws known collectively as Statutum de Judaismo (Statute of the Jewry), which among other things restricted the types of occupations permitted to Jews and the areas in which they were allowed to live.

An illicit relationship and its repercussions

Many historical sources draw no connection between Robert of Reading, his Jewish wife and the expulsion of English Jewry. In fact, the couple is often not even mentioned at all in that context.

Yet, a very direct connection between this convert, his wife and the king’s edict does appear quite prominently in a popular early 16th century work called Shevet Yehuda, written by Solomon ibn Virga a chronicler who was among those expelled from Spain. In ibn Virga’s story, there is a beautiful “Jewess” at the very center of this tragic event:

“There was a priest who… desired a very beautiful woman… and he would talk to her every day [but] she told him that she would not marry an uncircumcised one. The priest, who desired her and loved her and listened to her and secretly converted and married her. When his [fellow priests] heard about this thing, it was a disgrace – adding to their hatred of the Jews – and they demanded to harm the Jews…”

Ibn Virga further describes how the defamed Christians went to the king’s mother who tried to persuade her son to expel all of the Jews, though he wasn’t so easily swayed because of how important he knew the Jews to be for his kingdom.

Illustration of Edward I of England on his throne appearing in Chroniques de France ou de St. Denis, ca. 1400 (British Library / Public Domain)

She then went to his ministers to try and persuade them. Though they also understood the Jews’ importance to the kingdom, they were afraid of her and agreed to work together to convince the king to banish the Jews, ultimately succeeding.

Historian Joseph Hacohen tells a similar tale in his Emek Habakha (Vale of Tears), a chronicle of Jewish history traditionally read by some Italian Jews on Tisha B’Av. In that version, the priest even dresses up as a Jew in order to be able to speak with the object of his desire.

A work attributed to 16th century Italian Jewish scholar Gedaliah ibn Yahya ben Joseph may have mixed up the stories of the two Roberts, and taken additional poetic license as chroniclers of that time were known to do:

“A priest in England consented to be circumcised in order to be married to a Jewess, with whom he was desperately enamoured. The affair became known to the citizens, who were desirous of burning them. But the king chose to execute the revenge in a different way, and decreed that within three months, they should change their religion: those who circumcised the priest were burned and many of the Jews changed their religion.”

[Translation from “The Jews in Great Britain”, page 391]


Connections and questions

The causal connection between Robert of Reading’s conversion and marriage and the expulsion of English Jewry seems tenuous at best, among other reasons due to the fact that his conversion in the summer of 1275 took place a full 15 years before Edward I’s edict.

Rabid, wide-spread and state- and Church-sponsored anti-Semitism was not new to England and would culminate with the expulsion in 1290.

Prior to the expulsion, English Jews were forced to wear tablet-shaped badges like those appearing in this illustration of Jews being beaten, which appears in the Chronicle of Rochester, 1355 (British Library / Public Domain)

While Robert’s conversion and subsequent marriage were definitely notable given the king’s personal involvement, it does not seem that one friar converting and marrying a Jewish woman would have been – nor was it – the determining factor that brought about the expulsion.

Though the Jewish chronicle texts above can certainly not be taken as full historical truths, they raise fascinating questions about how and why such tales specifically captured the imagination of Jewish writers and their readers, and what role these courageous converts and their Jewish wives may have actually had in the broader context of this most tragic period in English Jewish history.

Many thanks to National Library of Israel expert Dr. Yacov Fuchs for his assistance untangling countless editions of 16th century manuscripts.

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

What Was This Russian Operative Doing at a Tiny American College?

The son of a famous performer, Kirill Chenkin fought in the Spanish Civil War and was recruited by Soviet intelligence prior to joining the faculty of Black Mountain College. He later became a 'refusenik' spokesman...

Kirill Chenkin, Black Mountain College faculty file, 1940 (Courtesy: Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina)

In the early 1970s, a new figure appeared among the “refuseniks” – Jewish activists in the USSR who were denied exit visas to Israel, yet were still persecuted and lost their jobs.

Kirill Khenkin, unusually fluent in foreign languages, served as their liaison to the foreign press and Western dignitaries. Among his mentions that turn up in the online Historical Jewish Press collection of the National Library of Israel and Tel Aviv University, one item noted another oddity for a refusenik: his 20-year tenure as a Radio Moscow commentator.

In the fall of 1973, Khenkin and his wife-colleague Irina finally had their visa requests approved, arriving in Israel two days before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

Demonstration to free Soviet Jewry, ca. 1970. From the Oded Yarkoni Archive of the History of Petach Tikva, part of the National Library of Israel’s Digital Collection

Yet the mystery around Kirill Khenkin thickened following a recent random discovery in the state archive of North Carolina in the United States: a photo dated 1940 of a debonair young man named Kirill Chenkin, who had a faculty file at Black Mountain College (BMC) as an instructor of French.

Could this be the same person, and what was he doing in the rural American South?


Black Mountain College

Founded in 1933 in the Appalachian foothills, the experimental, unconventional BMC lasted less than 30 years, but earned an iconic niche in American arts and education.

Design drawing of Black Mountain College, 1938 (Public domain)

A museum and arts center in nearby Asheville is dedicated to BMC’s heritage, and publishes The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies. We asked the journal’s editors whether it had ever published anything about Chenkin.

They replied:

“No, and we have always wondered about him. Would you like to clear up this mystery?”

We took up the challenge, which led us through a range of archives and personal collections on three continents. The intriguing results, which have just been published in Volume 12 of The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, read much like a spy novel.

Kirill Chenkin, about to turn 24, applied out of the blue to BMC from New York in late January 1940. He introduced himself as a Russian brought up in Paris, a graduate of the Sorbonne who also learned Spanish during “two years of residence in Spain.” The college, always strapped for cash, took him on (at room and board plus $10 a month), on the strength of the excellent American references he had provided, all of them connected to the theatrical background of his parents.


Son of a celebrity

Kirill’s father Victor Chenkin, the son of a Jewish scrap-iron dealer from southern Russia, was a largely self-taught singer and actor, who displayed the impressive talent it took for a Jew to enter the mainstream theater in imperial  Russia. Performing in The Bat – the satiric revue company of Konstantin Stanislavsky’s celebrated Moscow Art Theater – he met actress Elizaveta Nelidova, the scion of a Russian aristocratic dynasty. To marry her under Tsarist law, Viktor must have converted pro forma, and their son Kirill, born in 1916, was thus registered as Russian-Orthodox.

But after the Revolution, when the Chenkins were allowed to go abroad while retaining Soviet citizenship, Victor won international renown with a one-man show that appealed especially to Jewish audiences.

Advertisement for Victor Chenkin’s show published in the December 4, 1931 edition of The B’nai B’rith Messenger. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection
Promotional photo of Victor Chenkin appearing in the April 27, 1929 edition of The Forward. From the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

After they settled in Paris, Kirill was raised and influenced mostly by his mother while his father embarked on long, critically acclaimed tours across the United States and elsewhere, including Mandatory Palestine.


War and espionage

“Lida” Nelidova tended more to political activism, and was recruited to run pro-Soviet fronts among fellow expatriates. Kirill too, while still at university and scoring good reviews for his own stage debut, joined a Communist youth movement. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Kirill was recruited by a comrade of his mother’s in the NKVD secret police and intelligence agency.

Kirill Chenkin during the Spanish Civil War (Screenshot: White Emigrant International Brigades in Spain, Russian-language documentary film by Aleksei Shlianin, NTV-MediaMost, 2000)

He volunteered for the Soviet-backed International Brigade of the Republican Army fighting in Spain and was directed to join the agency’s outfit within the Brigade. There he acquired combat experiences, as well as expertise in explosives and undercover operations. This was the “residence in Spain” that he cautiously referred to in applying to Black Mountain College.

Only after learning of the prevailing pro-Republican attitude at the college did he disclose having fought for that cause. There is no evidence that he ever revealed his NKVD connection while at BMC, though he did flaunt “red” sympathies.

The dashing war veteran made quite a splash among the students but left few recorded footprints. Kirill kept out of group photos and kept to himself, though he did participate in the almost Soviet-style project in which the students built their own campus. He repeatedly declared intent to remain and naturalize in the United States, but shortly after the construction was completed, he suddenly served notice that he was going back to the Russia that he had left as a child.

Kirill Chenkin at Black Mountain College’s construction site, 1940. From the collection of French researcher Loic Damilaville, who befriended Chenkin in his old age

None of the explanations that Kirill provided for his abrupt departure – from homesickness to family constraints – seem to add up.

For Kirill and his parents, “repatriation” was ostensibly risky at best. Stalin’s purges were at their height, and, among many others, the NKVD agent who had recruited Chenkin had been recalled, arrested and shot.

Yet, if they did have reason to return, why the circuitous, year-long route they took across America, the Pacific and Siberia to Moscow? A series of clues we detected during the course of our research seems to indicate a plausible answer.

Following his service in Spain, Kirill’s NKVD boss Nahum (aka Leonid) Eitingon was tasked with planning the assassination of Stalin’s arch-rival Leon Trotsky, who was then in exile in Mexico. Eitingon set up an elaborate clandestine network in America for this purpose.

NKVD General Nahum Eitingon (Original image: The Forward / CC BY-SA 4.0)

As part of the network, Kirill was apparently prepositioned in an unobtrusive cover location in case his explosives expertise might be called for. He confided to a BMC student that he might be going to Mexico.

Trotsky was murdered in August 1940. There was no need to activate the entire network and its members were gradually withdrawn in the pursuing months. Shipping reports for the Port of Los Angeles show that the Chenkins set sail for Vladivostok on January 11, 1941 with a group of undercover Soviet operatives associated with Eitingon.


From disillusionment to activism

During the German siege of Moscow, Kirill was attached to the NKVD’s  “partisan” combat units intended to stay behind if the Soviet capital fell, but he was soon transferred to assignments that made better use of his linguistic abilities – first teaching, then writing and broadcasting as part of the Soviet propaganda efforts. He evaded recall to operational duties by rediscovering his Jewish identity during the anti-Semitic paroxysm of Stalin’s last days, and was never fully trusted again by the Soviet authorities. He would later recount that his disillusionment with the Soviet system had begun in Spain, but was not firmly cemented until 1968, when – on duty with a Czechoslovak party journal – he refused to justify the suppression of the “Prague Spring”.

Soviet tank on fire during the “Prague Spring”, 1968 (Public domain)

Back in Moscow, he became a confidant and spokesman for such dissidents as Andrei Sakharov, the renowned nuclear physicist and activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

If Chenkin’s connection to Zionism and his Jewish heritage was genuine beyond simply being a means to obtaining a ticket out of the USSR, it was certainly short-lived.

After moving to Israel, attending an ulpan in Tel Aviv and making one speaking tour in the United States on behalf of Soviet Jewry, he all but disappeared from the Israeli and Jewish scene.

The Yom Kippur War, which he arrived in Israel just in time to witness, was the first event he reported on for the US-sponsored, Russian-language Radio Liberty. He and Irina soon moved to the station’s base in Munich. The harshly anti-Soviet line in his commentary and publications seemed extreme even to some of his colleagues.


Endings and questions

On January 11, 1941, prior to sailing back to Russia, Kirill had cabled the rector of Black Mountain College from the Port of Los Angeles:

“Thanks for friendship. Good luck to you and BMC. Shall write from home.”

There is no evidence that he ever did. The telegram is the last document in Chenkin’s personnel file at the college. It was only late in life that he confided to a friend that in retrospect, his time in North Caroline was one of the happiest chapters in his story and a missed opportunity to change course.

Kirill Chenkin at about age 84 (Screenshot: White Emigrant International Brigades in Spain, Russian-language documentary film by Aleksei Shlianin, NTV-MediaMost, 2000)

Until his death on the French Riviera in 2008 at the age of 92, Kirill gave varying accounts of his life story. None of them ever mentioned – much less explained – his strange interlude at a remote American college as a possible “sleeper” who was never activated for one of Stalin’s most infamous crimes.


An extended version of this article was published in The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies. It appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Who Was the Real Model for Kafka’s Gregor Samsa?

A leading theory ties the identity of the insect from Franz Kafka's classic "The Metamorphosis" to the author’s Hebrew teacher

Mordechai Langer as a Hasid and after he returned to a secular lifestyle, the Mordechai Langer Collection at the National Library of Israel

One of the most famous stories ever written in Prague is Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which tells of a man who wakes up one bright morning to discover that he has become a “monstrous insect.” Reams have been written about the infinite symbolism of this story, which many see as a kind of great modern parable about rootlessness and the absurdity and helplessness of the human being faced with an irrational world. The best and brightest have offered complicated and bizarre interpretations about the grotesque insect that must face the hardships of reality and his immediate surroundings. Yet, it may be that the story’s inspiration is based on a real person—a Jew who lived in the city of Prague.

That Jew is Jiří (Georgo) Mordechai Langer, a local intellectual from a family that could be defined as Jewish, Czech, and even a bit German. They lived a comfortable bourgeois life outside of the Jewish Quarter, which many Jews in Prague had left behind in the as part of the Jewish emancipation process toward full citizenship. But something about Langer was different. He saw himself, first and foremost, as a Jew with a spiritual destiny. Langer’s spiritual journey took him to the Hasidic courts of Poland, and when he returned to his family in Prague, he looked like someone who had undergone a transformation. He had adopted the way of life, as well as the clothing, of a Belz Hasid. This was completely alien and even embarrassing to the Jews of Prague, who had left the ghetto life behind. Langer even behaved like an ascetic, eating only bread and onions, and walking at a fast pace, as was the Hasidic custom.

A statue of Franz Kafka indicating the place of his birth in Prague, photo: Dor Ben-Ari

At the same time, in Prague Langer acquired a deep and even poetic knowledge of Hebrew, while writing about the world of Kabbalah and Hasidism. He made a name for himself throughout the city thanks to his vast scope of knowledge, and among his Hebrew students was the as yet unknown writer Franz Kafka, who in one of his letters referred to his teacher as “the Westjude [lit. Western Jew] who assimilated into Hasidism.” Kafka witnessed Langer’s feelings of alienation from his own family, and one can note many similarities with the character of Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of The Metamorphosis. Langer’s brother, the writer František Langer, also noticed the resemblance. In any case, scholars today see a close connection between the city of Prague and the stories of Franz Kafka, and between Kafka and the Jewish community of Prague.

Photograph of Mordechai Langer from his book Me’at Zari [Hebrew], Davar Publishers

Nearly a century has passed since Kafka’s Hebrew lessons and fascinating encounters with Langer. Nevertheless, their respective literary legacies can be found under the same roof at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, alongside the archives of other members of Prague’s Jewish intellectual circle of those days, among them the writer Max Brod and the philosopher Samuel Hugo Bergmann. Prof. Dov Sadan deposited Mordechai Langer’s archive at the National Library, a collection which includes letters, copies of manuscripts, a few photographs and, for the most part, printed material related to the literary activity of the man who might very well have been the inspiration for Kafka’s best-known story.