Pride, Punctuality and Pushing Mark First Yekke Conference in Jerusalem

Can Tel Aviv city councillor Mordechai Virshubski - in whose favor it can be said that he was born in Leipzig but, on the other hand, whose mother was Polish - be considered a yekke (of German origin)?

Can Tel Aviv city councillor Mordechai Virshubski - in whose favor it can be said that he was born in Leipzig but, on the other hand, whose mother was Polish - be considered a yekke (of German origin)? He at least married a woman from a yekke family - another point in his favor - who is "very, very cultured," as he puts it.

Can the late industry and commerce minister Peretz (Fritz) Bernstein be considered one of them, when his mother was Dutch? Is the former editor of The Jerusalem Post, the most yekke paper there was, Ari Rath of Vienna, considered a true yekke? And look what has happened to the only paper still published here in German - its readers are mainly from Bukovina. "We will soon become real racists," someone in the audience shouted out, when the complaint was raised about the Romanian origins of the readership.

Is there any other community in Israel that so strictly guards its exact origins as these yekkes?

It has been a very long time since there was such a heartwarming and charming racist gathering as the conference on the yekkes that took place this week at Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem. The last of the yekkes came to defend their honor in front of overflowing halls, where many were left outside, and to claim - perhaps for the last time - that they have had a more significant influence on Israel than meets the eye.

The country's banking and judicial systems, its art and architecture, were influenced greatly by them, and even two of David Ben-Gurion's closest advisers were Viennese. But Ben-Gurion was not a yekke nor were any of his successors, even though there were five ministers of German origin in the country's history. And even this conference could not change the incontrovertible fact that in the most central issue that molded this country - war and peace - the yekkes were missing, even though three heads of the Shin Bet security service were from Vienna.

The first two state comptrollers - Dr. Siegfried Moses and Dr. Yitzhak Ernst Nebenzahl - were also yekkes, but what influence did a yekke comptroller have? They were wonderful critics, and designers and artists, industrialists and bankers, musicians and gardeners, and all of them were so meticulous, cultured and well-mannered. Well-mannered? It has been a long time since so many people have pushed and shoved and exploded at a conference; you just got off your seat for a second and it was taken by someone else violently - yes, violently - at this yekke conference.

Is it the 70 years they have spent more or less against their will in Asia, in the Levant, that has forced them to become like this, or were they always this way? They were maligned, like the Moroccans, and were considered inferior to the dominant Russian and Polish immigrants, but it is impossible not to look nostalgically at their past and some of their really good characteristics.

"If it weren't for the immigration from Germany, Israel today would look like what it is going to look like in another 20 years," journalist, former MK and veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery quoted one of his friends as saying, and everyone in the hall smiled sadly. When he said that if it was possible to achieve reconciliation with Germany it would be possible also with the Palestinians, everyone clapped. Most of them are so moderate, way back from the days of Brith Shalom (the pre-state peace association founded by Central European intellectuals), even though they never really fought for their ideas or anything else.

"There were some yekkes who took care that there would not be too much stealing in the country, or, if there was, that this would be noted down in appropriate fashion. Otherwise they had no influence on politics," Avnery said. Not everyone agreed. After all, they came to hear otherwise. And anyway not everything has to be politics. Three editors who shaped the press in Israel - Gershom Schocken (Haaretz), Azriel Carlebach (Maariv) and Uri Avnery (the defunct Ha'olam Hazeh) - were all from there. Avnery says: "There is no similarity between us. Schocken produced a good German paper in Hebrew, Carlebach introduced the tabloid revolution, and about the third I will not talk for reasons of modesty. But I believe nevertheless that what was common to the three of us, was our commitment to what we did. That perhaps is a yekke trait."

An announcement about a change in the program dragged on forever. These are people who do not like change. The discussions started on time, as is fitting. Some former Supreme Court justices could, of course, be seen in the hall. Gavriel Bach was there for the discussion on the media, and Yitzchak Zamir for that on the judicial system. Elyakim Rubinstein also put in an appearance, one of the younger participants.

TV newsman David Witztum, second generation, believes the yekkes made a considerable contribution to the country and succeeded in integrating while maintaining the special traits of their background, perhaps more than any other community. Integrate? Some of the yekkes cannot read a Hebrew paper after 60 or 70 years in the country.

And the yekke food that was served at lunchtime - cucumber salad, and sauerkraut, and red cabbage, and frankfurters, and potato salad with mayonnaise - was just like my mother, may she rest in peace, used to make.