Glueckel of Hameln

A unique Jewish woman.

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Let us summarize: while Glueckel’s “cartography” has all the apparent features of German cartography, it is in fact Jewish. On the other hand, at that time (paradoxically perhaps), only the Jews could really experience a “Germany.” Two centuries before Bismarck, Glueckel lived in a land united around the core of Prussia, a Germany where borders between principalities, duchies, and free cities, simply did not exist, as she was totally oblivious to them. As a Zionist leader was to say centuries later to Thomas Masaryk: “Among you there are either Czechs or Slovaks; only we, the Jews, are Czechoslovaks.”

For Gluckel, while Poland represented disaster and knowledge, Palestine was the incarnation of past and of hope. “’I should have forsaken the vanity of the world and with little left, gone to the Holy Land and loved there, a true daughter of Israel.” But she took no steps towards realizing this pious wish. In her memoirs, as in the mental universe of the Jews in general, the status of the Land of Israel was far from evident. By turning such pious wished into action, political Zionism, and before that militant messianism, interpreted this longing more literally than most Jews had intended.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University