Tag Archives: German Jews

Jew of the Week: Gluckel of Hameln

The Woman Who Transformed Yiddish Literature and History

Gluckel (or Glikl) bat Yehuda Leib (c. 1646-1724) was born in Hamburg to a wealthy, influential, and deeply religious Ashkenazi family. Although all Jews were expelled from Hamburg in 1649, her father was given permission to return because he was so highly respected by the German authorities. Gluckel was given a strong education, and got married at age 14 to Chaim of Hameln. The young family soon started a successful diamond and pearl business. When her beloved husband passed away, Gluckel took over the business. She became famous as one of the few women in Europe that ran her own sprawling enterprise, and that travelled alone to trade fairs and through European markets. She still took care of all 13 of her children! Gluckel eventually remarried, reluctantly, to a banker named Cerf Levy. Two years later, Levy lost his fortune, and wasted Gluckel’s too. After 12 years of marriage, Levy died and left Gluckel a widow for the second time. She slowly recovered from her losses, and lived out the rest of her life in relative solitude. Most significant for historians, Gluckel kept a detailed diary for many years, providing us with an inside look into both European and Ashkenazi Jewish life of the 17th and 18th centuries. The seven journals she wrote touch on important themes and describe key historical events, and are considered among the greatest Yiddish literary works of all time. One of Gluckel’s great-granddaughters was (former Jew of the Week) Bertha Pappenheim, who produced a German translation of Gluckel’s diaries (and is also the woman in the portrait at right, where she dressed up as Gluckel). The translation was hugely popular, and an English version was produced in 1932, as well as a fictional adaptation in 1941, and a newer translation in 2019. Another one of Gluckel’s grandchildren was renowned rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. In 2016, a street in Hamburg where she lived as a child was named after her (Glückel von Hameln Straße). Her yahrzeit is on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Shana Tova u’Metuka! Happy 5783!

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The Origins and Meaning of Tashlich

Words of the Week

These are days of judgment as to whether we deserve anything. We only have a chance of encountering God when we allow Him into everything and educate ourselves to recognize Him in all we receive. Everything is a miracle, pure gifts we did nothing to merit: to live, to breathe, to eat and drink, to think, to laugh, to enjoy our friends and families… Rosh Hashanah is a day that protests the claim that we deserve anything. We stand naked before God and try to make ourselves at least slightly deserving of all these gifts by admitting that everything is a miracle.
– Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Jew of the Week: Simon Kremser

Inventor of Buses 

A modern-day Kremser carriage in Germany

Simon Kremser (1775-1851) was born in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). He followed in the footsteps of his father, a wealthy merchant. During the Napoleonic Wars, Kremser helped to provide funds for the Silesian Army against Napoleon, and managed the Prussian royal family’s war chest. He was awarded the Iron Cross, and was eventually granted citizenship, becoming one of the first Jews to be a German citizen. In 1825, Kremser had an idea for a public carriage line that would quickly and cheaply transport people across Berlin. He got permission from King Friedrich William III, and designed a large horse-drawn carriage that could seat up to 20 people. Such carriages are still known as “kremsers” in Germany today. By 1835, Kremser ran three different “bus” lines in Berlin. The idea of public buses soon spread across Europe. As the king’s official hauler, Kremser was also the one commissioned to return the famous Brandenburg Gate Quadriga to Berlin in 1814 after it had been snatched by Napoleon. Little else is known of Kremser, and no picture of him has survived. It is believed that he lived out his last years in Russia, where he served the royal family and was given the honorary military rank of major.

Words of the Week

The only wealth that I truly own is that which I have given away to good causes. Everything else – all my holdings – are simply under my control for the moment, but they can be lost in the next moment due to a bad decision, war, an accident or other cause which I cannot control. However, the good institutions that my money has built are forever; they can never be taken or lost.
Sir Moses Montefiore 

Jew of the Week: Max Born

Germany’s Greatest Physicist

Max Born (1882-1970) was born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) to a German-Jewish family. He first studied at the University of Breslau, then switched to the University of Gottingen where he met renowned mathematician (and former Jew of the Week) Hermann Minkowski, who became one of his mentors. After earning his Ph.D, Born continued his studies at Cambridge. He soon returned to Gottingen to work with Minkowski on unifying electrodynamics with Albert Einstein’s relativity. Over the next few years, Born published 27 important papers that made him a superstar in the world of physics and math. During this time, he met his wife and was pressured to convert to Lutheranism to marry her. He refused. However, in 1914 he received a letter from Max Planck inviting him to become a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin—and to accept this position he would have to become a Christian, since professorships were still barred to Jews. Born ended up “converting” nominally for this reason. With the outbreak of World War I, Born joined a military research unit. During the war, he became best friends with Albert Einstein (who once described Born as the greatest physicist in all of Germany), and also briefly worked with Fritz Haber in discovering the Born-Haber cycle. Born would return to Gottingen, where Werner Heisenberg was one of his main students. Together, they did important work in advancing quantum mechanics. In 1932, Heisenberg won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in quantum physics, but he protested that Born didn’t receive the prize with him. Another two of Born’s students went on to win Nobel Prizes in physics before he did. (It was only in 1954, two years after retirement, that Born received a Nobel Prize of his own!) Another of his Ph.D students was J. Robert Oppenheimer, later the “father of the atomic bomb”. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Born was suspended from his job because he was a Jew. He moved to Cambridge temporarily and there wrote a bestselling physics book, as well as a textbook that became the standard for physics students for many decades to come. He then became professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Born and his wife helped Jewish refugees escape Germany and settle in the UK. After retiring at the age of 70, Born returned to Germany and lived out the rest of his life there. One of his grandchildren is actress and singer Olivia Newton-John, who passed away last week.

Words of the Week

The difference between science and Torah is in the fundamental concept that science does not demand any behaviour. One can be the greatest scientist in the world and behave like the most degraded human, like the Nazis, who achieved the greatest scientific findings while manifesting the most degenerate behaviour…
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe