Now that we are well and truly entrenched in the digital age it comes as no surprise to find that this has been adopted and adapted to its own ends by the community of Jews originally from German-speaking lands, otherwise known as Yekkes.
Ever since I joined Facebook some time ago I am constantly bombarded by homilies about how best to conduct my life, pictures of kittens, puppies and babies, and occasionally also edifying information about world developments, ideas, and of course jokes. I do my best to keep up with this flood of data, but am starting to feel that I am increasingly being inundated with indigestible material
There are, however, one or two points of light in the barrage, and among them are two groups intended for Jews originally from German-speaking countries. The first such group, entitled ‘Hoppe Hoppe Reiter,’ is based in Israel and tends to display family photos and accounts of the life and times of the members of the group from before the war. And, of course, their descendants. One by-product of this virtual group has been the establishment of physical groups that meet in various places in Israel. I belong to the one here in Jerusalem which meets every two weeks to talk about a variety of subjects, but always only in German. The group meets in the offices of the Association of Jews from Central Europe, and is led by the ever-energetic Ilana Alroy-Brosh, who is considerably younger than most of the members. These are people (mainly women) who were born in Israel or abroad to German-speaking parents, heard and spoke German at home as children, but now no longer have anyone with whom to converse in German.
I personally do not fit into that category because in wartime England it was not considered appropriate to speak in German, and so I grew up hearing English spoken at home. Luckily, both of my parents spoke English well, and although in my childhood I was aware of their foreign accents I had no desire to speak any other language, and did not even take up the option of learning German at school. It was only much later in my life, in the last fifteen years or so, that I have been studying German in order to be able to read the documents and correspondence my parents brought out of Germany with them in 1938 as well as other material. My German isn’t as native as that of the other members of the group, but I manage to understand what’s going on and even add my little bit to the conversation from time to time.
In the group of German speakers we generally decide on a topic for discussion at the next meeting and are sometimes asked to prepare suitable material to illustrate our contribution. When the topic was children’s books we were treated to original editions of Struwwelpeter and I even found myself joining in when everyone sang Hänschen Klein, though I have no idea where or when I learned it. And no, we did not play Hoppe Hoppe Reiter with one another. At another meeting we were asked to talk about our childhood hobbies and were treated to impressive themed collections of stamps, paper serviettes, transfers, and even a couple of professional-looking puppets made entirely by one of the participants. One participant is an expert chocolatière, so you can imagine how we delighted in what she had brought along.
The other Facebook group is run by another energetic lady, this time in America. The group, known as JEWS, Jews Engaging Worldwide in Social Networking, is run by Vera Meyer, who hails from Boston, I believe. The group posts items of interest to the Yekke community as well as potted biographies of individuals and families. As is the case with the Hoppe Hoppe Reiter group, the posts are in a variety of languages, mainly English and German but also Hebrew and even occasionally Spanish, French or Italian. New members are welcomed and asked to send a small autobiography and account of their family. In this way people who are scattered all over the world are given a sense of community and are able to get in touch with their roots.
[This article originally appeared in the May issue of AJR Journal]