David Collard at The Times Literary Supplement:
“What have I in common with Jews?” wrote Franz Kafka in his diary. “I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.” Despite such equivocal feelings Kafka studied Hebrew while living in Berlin in 1923, a year before his death, hiring a tutor from Palestine and attending classes at the Berlin Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Berlin College for the Study of Judaism). He, of course, elected to write in German, but his near-contemporary David Vogel wrote and published only in Hebrew. Both men were undoubtedly influenced by attempts to reclaim Hebrew that were linked to varieties of Jewish nationalism, though Vogel’s decision appears to have been prompted by largely aesthetic considerations, unrelated to any wider ideological agenda, and certainly not a Zionist one. While Kafka is today what we might call a global brand, Vogel remains virtually unknown to those of us unable to read the language in which he chose to write.
Vogel’s life was rootless, contingent and ultimately tragic. Born into a Yiddish-speaking family in 1891 in the Podolia region of what is now Russia, he moved west at the age of eighteen to Vilnius as a yeshiva student, working as a synagogue caretaker and studying Hebrew. He arrived two years later in Vienna where he scratched a living teaching Hebrew and very briefly copying letters for the Zionist Organization until the First World War broke out, whereupon he was interned in Austria as an enemy Russian alien.