In celebration of National Poetry Month:

One could easily say that the life of  Jiri Mordecai Langer (1894-1943) was lived between the two World Wars. Born in Prague to an assimilated Jewish family, Jiri set off to discover his Jewish roots when he was 19. He immersed himself in the chassidic court of the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeah. He stayed for several months before returning home to the non-Chassidic world of cosmopolitan Prague. Drafted into the Austrian Army, Langer spent much of the first World War in military prison for refusing to follow orders that interfered with his religious practice. Although Langer did not remain a chassid, the influence of his time with the Belzer Rebbe can be felt in the topics on which he wrote.

Between the wars, Prague had a flourishing literary society. Langer was close with both Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Langer began his writing career in 1919, publishing articles in Czech and German on a wide range of topics, from Talmud and Kabbalah to psychoanalysis and world literature. Langer’s first Hebrew poem was published in 1923, in a Warsaw monthly called Kolot. Six years later he published Piyutim V’shirei Yedidut (Odes and Poems of Friendship), a compilation of his poetry. It has been noted that his Hebrew poetic works share the flavor of the medieval liturgical poems of Spanish Jewry.

Langer remained fascinated by the chassidic world, and in 1937, he published an anthology of vignettes, recollections and chassidic tales titled Nine Gates. When the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, the book was confiscated and further publication of it was banned.

Fleeing the Nazis, Langer made his way to Palestine. Sick and impoverished, he managed to arrange for the publication of a second book of poetry, Me’at Tzori (A Little Balm), which appeared shortly after his death in 1943.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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