Literary Legacies and the Library
For the third consecutive year, in March of 2019, the National Library of Israel (NLI) participated in the 67th Annual Jewish Book Week, London’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and one of the leading Jewish literary events in the world.
The National Library of Israel sponsored three stimulating and well-attended sessions relating to the Library’s extensive collections.
Dr. Stefan Litt, curator of Humanities at the NLI, participated in a session that featured Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka's Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy, which focused on, “Contested Literary Legacies and Cultural Property.” The session, moderated by award-winning author Rebecca Abrams, discussed the much talked about international legal battle that surrounded Max Brod and Franz Kafka’s papers that are now held in the National Library of Israel and the issues of cultural inheritance.
According to Dr. Litt, the discussion and interest during the session exhibited how Max Brod succeeded in sanctifying Franz Kafka and his works despite Kafka’s last wish that his writings not only remain unpublished but be destroyed in their entirety. By publishing his works, Brod turned Kafka into a saint and allowed his friend to become more famous in death than Brod ever was in life.
"After all the attention given to the court case people always hope I will reveal something new during my sessions,” said Dr. Litt after the event. “One hundred percent of the materials have been published already. Max Brod didn’t just betray the wishes of his friend, he betrayed him completely and published every single thing.”
Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the curator of the Haim and Hanna Solomon Judaica Collection at the National Library of Israel, interviewed author Ilana Kurshan, who spoke about her Sami Rohr Prize-winning memoir, “If All the Seas Were Ink.” In her book, Ilana leads the reader on a descriptive journey through her study of the Talmud that gives new insights into the text and tells her of her personal life experiences and journey through that lens. Her distinctive and contemporary way of looking at texts that have been studied and analyzed for centuries, made for a fascinating discussion.
“When Ilana was studying the Talmud, she jotted down her personal connections to the texts,” said Dr. Finkelman. “This was very different than the writings of the rabbis of the past – if we tried to recreate a biography of a rabbi based on his notes we would get nowhere,” he explained.
“Traditionally, rabbis were extremely passionate about the Talmud, which made anything in the Talmud already relevant, irrespective of what was going on in their personal lives. The question of "it speaks to me on a personal level" was not something that would have occurred to them, which is what makes Ilana's work unique and special."
The third session hosted by the National Library featured author David Fishman and was chaired by James Libson. Fishman authored The Book Smugglers, which tells the incredible true story of the Vilna ghetto inmates who successfully saved priceless manuscripts by hiding them – in bunkers and on their person – to ensure they would evade detection and destruction at the hands of the Nazis.
These scholars and poets turned partisans succeeded in preserving and rescuing the treasures of the Jerusalem of Lithuania – some of their works are now prized items in the NLI archive collection.