Grapevine: The ‘Yekke’ connection

German words that have entered the Hebrew lexicon can be found in a delightful dictionary-cum-history book with light anthropological overtones, Ben Yehuda Strasse, which was published a few months ago.

Haim Yavin & wife 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haim Yavin & wife 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Because Russian immigrants played such a significant role in pioneering the renewal of Jewish settlement in the Holy Land, and because so many Russians came to Israel after the fall of Communism, there is a tendency to forget the Yekkes – the German and Austrian immigrants as well as the German-speaking Czechs and Hungarians, who are also regarded as yekkes.
But, suddenly, the meat in the demographic sandwich is once more rising to the surface.
It might have something to do with the Viennese background of both Theodor Herzl and Teddy Kollek. Micha Limor, who once headed the news department at Channel 1 and is currently the editor of Yakinton, the monthly cultural magazine of the Yekke community, believes it is a mix of nostalgia, history and culture on the part of mainly second-generation Israeli Yekkes, who, when they were growing up, disdained the German language that they heard at home, shed the Yekke image which was a source of general derision and now, in their 60s and 70s, regret never having asked their parents and parents about their cultural heritage. Many of them are gathering the vestiges of what remains of Yekke culture and are attempting to revive it. One of the outcomes of these efforts is the revival of the German they heard at home.
Limor was the last of three speakers this week at Ticho House in Jerusalem at the “From Vienna to Jerusalem” lecture evening. Prof. Milly Heyd of the Hebrew University’s Department of Art History spoke about the impact and heritage of Viennese art and design, particularly with regard to Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman; and veteran broadcaster and musician David Witzthum discussed composers who, though not necessarily born in Vienna, came to Vienna to be inspired by the city’s cultural muse. Limor’s focus was on linguistics and the subtle penetration of German into Hebrew, especially in words having to do with mechanics. To illustrate the point, Limor said that he and his wife had recently been at a restaurant in the north of the country in a city that is largely inhabited by people of North African background. They stopped at a restaurant whose slogan was “Bis l’kol kis.” (a bite for every pocket). The proprietor of the restaurant was sure the word “bis” comes from Tel Aviv, but it is actually German in origin.
Other German words that have entered the Hebrew lexicon can be found in a delightful dictionary-cum-history book with light anthropological overtones, Ben Yehuda Strasse, which was published a few months ago and which Limor said has become a best-seller, prompting the need for an additional printing. The book was conceived when a number of second-generation yekkes got together and started remembering expressions used at home.The group sent out emails to members of the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin asking for contributions to the dictionary in the making.
They were surprised by the flood of responses. Not so long ago, said Limor, the Association, mindful of the fact that in the 1930s, those of its members who were actors had been rejected by Habimah but embraced by the Cameri Theater, held an evening at Tzavta in Tel Aviv to review the contribution of Central European entertainers to Israeli culture. In his opening remarks, association president Reuven Merhav, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, recalled how frequently he had been told during his childhood in Haifa “Macht nicht so ein theater,” which literally means “don’t be so dramatic,” but in the vernacular means “stop fooling around.”
To the great amusement of the audience, whose members were in most cases of Central European background, Limor presented a short list of German expressions that have dovetailed into everyday Hebrew.
Among Israel’s best-known yekkes are industrialist Stef Wertheimer; prize-winning photographer David Rubinger; leading insurance, investments and financial services figure Yair Hamburger; Michael Strauss of the Strauss dairy industry; former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat; journalists Uri Avnery and Ronen Bergman; actress Hana Merom; jurist Gabriel Bach; real estate guru Werner Loval; and artist Naftali Bezem, who has returned to Tel Aviv after 15 years in Europe and whose exhibition opens Saturday at the Tel Aviv Museum. It is interesting to note the high ratio of yekkes among Israel Prize laureates.
■ “IF IT was up to me, you would remain tourism minister,” former Labor MK and former defense minister Amir Peretz, who is running on the Tzipi Livni ticket for the Knesset election told outgoing Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov at the annual conference of the Israel Hotels Association at the Tel Aviv Hilton. In early December, Meseznikov announced his retirement from politics, though Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman expressed confidence that Meseznikov was merely taking time out just as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and he, Liberman, had done in the past. Peretz did not confine his praise of Meseznikov to some private remark, but declared it from the podium.
Although he quit politics under a cloud of rumors about inappropriate behavior for a minister, Meseznikov was highly appreciated by hoteliers and others in the tourist industry, and did a great deal to encourage its standards and competitiveness as well as expanding tourist facilities and services. So many compliments flew at him from all directions that Meseznikov was blushing in embarrassment. But the mood changed somewhat when it came to discussing who might succeed him. MK Uri Ariel hinted in the course of a panel discussion chaired by Nissim Mishal that Bayit Yehudi would be interested in getting the tourism portfolio if it becomes part of the government coalition. “Next you’ll be asking for the foreign affairs portfolio,” Mishal sneered dismissively.
■ ALTHOUGH HE was born on January 9, the birthday of national poet Haim Nachman Bialik is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar date of his birth, which was the 10th of Tevet. Since this is a day of fasting and mourning in memory of the siege of Jerusalem that led to the destruction of the Temple, Bialik’s birthday is celebrated on the 11th. The poet’s 140th birthday was celebrated on Sunday night in Tel Aviv in the home in which he used to live, on the street that is appropriately named Bialik Street. Several Israel Prize laureates were each asked to read one of his poems and to talk about what Bialik means to them.
Among those who agreed to select and read a poem were Professors Ruth Ben-Israel, Moshe Bar-Asher, Assa Casher, Zahava Solomon, Dan Schechtman (who is also a Wolf Prize and Nobel Prize laureate) and Noam Sharif; Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; political activist Geula Cohen; photographer Alex Levac; actress Hana Marom; and broadcaster and producer of documentaries Haim Yavin. The venue provided the ambience for the occasion and served to illustrate the importance of preserving historic buildings.
■ TO MARK its 70th anniversary, The Association for the Well-being of Israel’s Soldiers (AWIS) this week launched an exhibition of rare posters and photographs borrowed from the archives of the Israel Defense Forces.
Among those attending the opening at Beit He’hayal in Tel Aviv were Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen, Benny Gantz and Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, who heads the IDF Human Resources Division.
“The fingerprints of the AWIS can be found on every army base,” said Gantz as he congratulated AWIS chairman Brig.-Gen (res.) Avigdor Kahalani for the wonderful work the association does in boosting morale and providing for soldiers’ needs.
The exhibition traces the history of the association from its beginning in 1942, when it called itself the Committee for Welfare of Jewish Soldiers.
Established by the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Council, the committee initially concerned itself with the well-being of Jewish soldiers fighting the Nazis. After the establishment of the state, its focus turned to soldiers in the IDF, providing them with warm blankets and clothing and centers for leisure time pursuits. Today, in addition to assisting with general welfare needs for soldiers, the AWIS maintains 16 homes for lone soldiers, without close relatives in Israel, plus a vacation home and hospital services for wounded soldiers. Its funding is largely from donors in Israel and abroad.