In Israel, German Jews, called "Yeckes," used to be considered pedantic and difficult. Nowadays, they're acknowledged for the contribution to the construction of contemporary Israel, and "Yeck" has become a compliment.
Jewish immigrants arrived in greater numbers in Palestine in the 1930s and '40s
"Lul" is a classic sketch of Israeli humor. It describes the waves of immigrants that came from Europe to the Middle East. First there were 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 Tefen 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, said Ruth Ofek, the museum's head.
The museum is in an industrial park in Tefen
"The Yeckes had an important part in Israel's development," she said. "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 Yeck 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, sometimes also spelled Yekkes, 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.
Gruenthal fled to Palestine at 17
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," recalled Hans Gruenthal. "It was frowned upon."
Those who could speak 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 Gruenthal lives in a home for senior citizens in Haifa. Nearly all of the home's residents speak German, including Heinz and Chava Kasmi.
Chava and Heinz Kasmi aren't impressed by Israeli manners
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, an area in Czechoslovakia where many German speakers lived.
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 said.
"We try to pass that on to our children and grandchildren," said Heinz Kasmi, adding with a laugh: "We'll manage it."