German Jewish Family Values

Additional research–my thanks to Marion Kaplan for her book The Making of the Jewish Middle Class–reveals that as laws in Germany allowed Jews freedom to join the professions and become upwardly mobile, the German ideals of cleanliness entered the Jewish household.  They accepted the need for the clutterless household, regularly picked up and polished, as a way to bring security into an insecure existence.  Jewish housewives, it happens, came to be trend setters in terms of furnishings, as, thanks to having more relatives living in cities, they brought city styles and furniture arrangements to the outlying areas.

But here is a most revealing fact in terms of why Pauline Einstein, sight unseen, opposed Albert’s marriage to a Serb:

“Both Gentiles and Jews believed that dirt could lead to decadence, but for Jews it could also lead to the dreaded identification with their proletarian, Eastern, nonacculturated brothers and sisters living in the ghettos of Berlin and other major cities.  German Jews focused on eliminating dirt and smell—class symbols—from their lives.” (Kaplan, 33)

Anyone Eastern European threatened to bring down the standards of the household, those countries being associated with dirt and odor.  German households had a horror of garlic, that being the odor associated with Eastern European, nonacculturated Jews.   Imagine Albert’s mother, having a son who couldn’t be bothered to wash, comb his hair, or tie his shoes, now wanting to bring a Serb into the family!  (Land of gypsies and brigands, Serbia.  And Mileva’s father was proud of it.)  For a persecuted people group like the Jews, entering the middle class, acculturating with German Gentiles, was a way to avoid anti-Semitism.  

 And, I’m learning about my own family–that German grandmother, whose bedsheets were passed down to me, each with a little red thread in the exact center, so that when making the bed, one could center the sheets perfectly.  She was my mother’s mother, and so now I understand my mother’s horror of clutter–the need for bare kitchen counters, all appliances put away–and her dislike of garlic or any foods containing it.  Needless to say, she never made pasta–which we then called spaghetti.  (My dad loved it, but he had to eat it in a restaurant.)  I understand why cooking was no fun to mother–so much work, if one had to get out all the appliances, do the cooking, then expunge the evidence of the labor as soon as it was accomplished.  My mother was a bright, funny woman who couldn’t tolerate a mess.  I always felt this intolerance extinguished her creativity, not just in the kitchen, but in other aspects of her life, too.  Creativity is messy.  I can’t imagine being able to write a novel if I couldn’t stand the mess of structurelessness that  precedes a meaningful assemblage of pieces.



About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
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