Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature

BY KEREN DOUEK, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Just as angels are iconic images that can be found throughout the historical texts of different cultures and religions, there also tend to be rich histories of demons throughout historical religious texts. Therefore it is not surprising that volumes of texts surrounding Jewish demons exist.

As part of a series called “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature” organized by nextbook — an organization that promotes books illuminating 3,000 years of Jewish civilization — the University City Public Library is holding a class on “Demons, Golems, and Dybbuks; Monsters of the Jewish Imagination.”

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“Let’s Talk About It” is a syllabus that nextbook put together to facilitate libraries across the nation to host discussions led by local scholars around themes in contemporary and classic Jewish literature. The four themes for “Let’s Talk About It” are “Your Heart’s Desire: Sex and Love in Jewish Literature;” “Between Two Worlds: Stories of Estrangement and Homecoming;” “A Mind of Her Own: Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World,” and the series on monsters of the Jewish imagination.

The five books examined in the “Demons, Golems and Dybbuks” series include Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer; The Dybbuk by S. Ansky, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick, and Angels in America by Tony Kushner.

The nextbook syllabus describes these five tales as being “as much about bodies — the enchanting, the ailing, the monstrous — as about spirits,” and says they leave the reader wondering “which is stranger, the supernatural world or our own?”

Patrick Wall of the University City Library said they found out about the program through the American Library Association, which is a co-sponsor of the series. Wall said they selected Howard Schwartz — a professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has published three books of poetry and several books of fiction, as well as edited a four-volume set of Jewish folktales — because “he is the expert on this theme, so he just seemed like a natural.”

The next meeting will be Aug. 9 and will look at Metamorphosis, “how one morning Gregory Samsa wakes up and discovers he turned into a giant cockroach, and how his family responds to this transformation,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he has been a devotee to Kafka for approximately 40 years, and feels Kafka was never given enough recognition as a Jewish writer.

The meetings take place monthly at 7 p.m. at the University City Library, and Wall said there have been approximately 35 participants at the meetings. Participants are encouraged but not required to read the texts — which are available at the University City Library — prior to the meetings. Meetings are free of charge.

For more information on the series please call the University City Public Library at 314-727-3150.

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected]