German Jews keep up the culture in Israel's old folks homes

In Israel, German Jews, called Yeckes, are acknowledged for the contribution to the construction of modern-day Israel.

israel germany flags 88 (photo credit: )
israel germany flags 88
(photo credit: )
"Lul" is a classic sketch of Israeli humor. It describes the waves of immigrants that came from Europe to the Middle East. First came the Russians, then the Poles, then the Yeckes -- the German Jews. Wearing felt hats and lederhosen, Fritzi and his father arrive from Europe. Fritzi is visibly shocked as he looks around. "But father," he cries, "is this Palestine? It's all just sand?" In a heavy German accent, his father replies," You bonehead, we'll bring this desert to life." The sketch runs on a loop in the Yeckes Museum in western Galilee as a point of entry to the exhibition about German Jews. It may be something of an overstatement, but it still contains a kernel of truth, says Ruth Ofek, the museum's head. "The Yeckes had an important part in Israel's development. They made a mark everywhere, in medicine, science, philosophy and in the legal system." From jackets to Yeckes? It's not clear where the word Yeck comes from. It may have to do with German Jews having worn short jackets, Jacken in German, in contrast to the long caftans worn by Eastern European Jews. In any case, the stereotypical Israeli view says that Yeckes are upstanding, honest and educated as well as a bit difficult and stubborn. They are qualities Israelis have come to appreciate, according to Ofek, and the term Yeck has become a compliment. The Yeckes Museum documents the history of the German Jews in Israel. Photos, posters, everyday objects and furniture spread around the two-story exhibition tell stories about the Yeckes. The museum's fortunate in that young people frequently donate their grandparents' German books and letters, because they can't read them. Thus, stories of the Yeckes are unlikely to go missing and the documents can be presented to a wider public. New land, new start The Yeckes started coming to Palestine in greater numbers in the 1930s, mainly fleeing from the Nazis. It was tough -- for everyone -- in the inhospitable land. Born in 1915 in then-German Breslau, now Wroclaw, Poland, Hans Gruenthal was an enthusiastic and active Zionist as a young man. When the Nazis took power of Germany in 1933, he fled. Even before his 18th birthday, Gruenthal arrived -- alone, without papers and illegally -- in Palestine. He trained to be an electrician and quickly set about learning Hebrew. "No one spoke German. It was frowned upon," recalls Hans Gruenthal. Those who had a smattering of Yiddish were in a better position. On May 14, 1948, when Israel was founded, Gruenthal was 33 years old, and he remembers it well. "We all celebrated then," he said. Old world manners Now Grünthal lives in a home for senior citizens in Haifa. Nearly all of the home's residents speak German, including Heinz and Chava Kasmi. In 1936, Heinz went to Palestine from Hildesheim with a Zionist youth group which settled in Kirjat Bialik, a small town to the north of Haifa that was founded by Germans. His wife, Chava, came from Sudenland, German-speaking areas in Czechoslovakia. The couple is proud of their German heritage and of the role German Jews played in building Israel. They're still valued today for their honesty and good manners, qualities that are foreign to most Israelis, the Kasmis say. "We try to pass that on to our children and grandchildren," said Heinz Kasmi, adding with a laugh: "We'll manage it." Courtesy of Deutsche Welle: DW-WORLD.DE