An Unsung Jewish Prophet
For most of their long history, especially in the century of Hitler and Stalin, Jews have faced their greatest threat in anti-Semitism. Yet in this same century another and perhaps ultimately more potent threat to Jewish survival has arisen, and not from without but within: assimilation. Earlier and more clearly than perhaps anyone, a certain professor, now all but forgotten, understood the scope and force of this threat.
A portrait immortalizes him with his wife and four children. The two middle children and their mother, seated on wicker chairs and dressed in the comfortable fashions of the yishuv—the prestate Zionist colony in Palestine—face the camera with relatively open smiles. Behind them stands the eldest child; her eyes look out from shadows. The clean-shaven professor himself is all dignity. His dark suit is vested, his shoulders are rigid, his gaze, minus the usual spectacles, is aimed myopically elsewhere. Jowly, stoutish, half-bald, he could pass better as the grandfather than the father of the infant being held in its smiling mother’s arms.
The year is 1927, the place Jerusalem, the man Arthur Ruppin, aged fifty-one. By all accounts, and from all the evidence, Ruppin was a modest, decent, optimistic type. He was also a most dedicated, far-sighted, and successful revolutionary.
“More than anyone else,” the historian Paul Johnson writes correctly, “Ruppin was responsible for the nuts and bolts, the bread and butter of the new home,” that is, of the Jewish state-in-the-making. If his name draws a blank in most of the world today, the explanation is that, unlike Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, or David Ben-Gurion, he was not a Zionist spellbinder, did not parley with mighty Gentiles, and never ordered men into battle. Outside Israel, about the only people who can identify this German-speaking family man are a few academics who specialize in the sociology and demography of the Jews: fields invented by Ruppin in his spare time.
Until 1904 and his book Juden der Gegenwart (“The Jews of Today”), Jewish demography did not exist and Jewish sociology was a mishmash. The pillars of the school of Wissenschaft des Judentums (the “Science of Judaism”), trained in German universities, had to rely on anecdotes and their own enormous first-hand knowledge when bringing their historical studies up to the present day. Ruppin at the age of twenty-eight introduced some order, gravity, reliability. He wished his data to be accepted as cold, indisputable, useful facts; and so they were, quite widely and quickly.
But that was not all. The dry numbers implied for Ruppin a vision of the future of the Jews, which he wanted his readers to see as he did. For although he was not yet a card-carrying Zionist when Juden der Gegenwart came out, he was on the verge. After he made the decision to give his life over to the movement, the many other books he was to publish all put social science in the service of the cause. The extent to which the predictions in this work have come to pass may be a measure of the truth that some ideologies are less blinding than others.
Ruppin was not the only Zionist between the Rhine and Koenigsberg, the Baltic and the Alps. He was, however, one of those uncommon Zionists in Mitteleuropa who moved to the Land of Israel before Hitler obliged them to. In fact, he and his first wife, Selma, constituted a two-person vanguard, making the switch in 1908, when Palestine was still a backwater of the Ottoman empire. Offered the job of setting up and running the first Zionist office in Palestine itself, of bringing some order to a disorderly and demoralized enterprise, Ruppin accepted. The next year, he was in the thick of the founding of Tel Aviv, in the dunes north of Jaffa, and the year after that, Degania, the first kibbutz.
For a man of Ruppin’s education and bearing, to pack up and leave Berlin for Jaffa was comparable to a Bostonian romantically leaving for Arizona with his bride long before either the Indians or the outlaws had been taken care of. This no-nonsense Ph.D., lawyer and businessman, amateur agronomist and eugenicist, arrived in a country in Asia without electricity, without telephones, without paved roads, without sewerage, without a hospital deserving of the name, without a proper judicial system, without schools let alone a university, and without a concert hall—indeed, without many other Jews besides the pious beggars of Jerusalem and Safed. Young David Green had arrived from Poland only three years before to metamorphose into David Ben-Gurion, and in all of Palestine there were at most a couple of thousand other unemployed Zionist pioneers like him, languishing, orating, feuding, dreaming, and starving.
Ruppin was no socialist. He was a scrupulously apolitical revolutionary who gave of his energies, knowledge, intelligence, and planning genius to any project important to Zionism. We might call him a technocrat if he were not so many-sided and essentially, though never too obviously, passionate. From 1908 until World War I, he managed Zionist land purchase and settlement. From 1916 to 1920, exiled by the Turks to Constantinople, he was on active standby, making sure that funds brought over from America by the U.S. ambassador in town, the generally anti-Zionist Henry Morgenthau, got to the yishuv to keep it alive. From 1920 to 1933, back in British mandatory Palestine, he was in charge of both settlement and the economy of the National Home, as the Zionist project was called in the Balfour Declaration. And from 1933, he directed the immigration of Jewish youngsters from Central Europe.
Prodigiously active, he also set up Brit Shalom (Peace Union) in the 1920’s, the original Peace Now, where mainly German-speaking intellectuals discussed how the Arabs might be reconciled to Zionism. These doves were ready to concede much. Until the Arab riots of 1929, Ruppin himself was a binationalist—he did not see the need for a sovereign Jewish state, with all its inevitably dreary trappings. But by 1933, he had broken with his dear friends and fellow doves at the Hebrew University (where he occupied the first chair in sociology) and left Brit Shalom, convinced that nothing the Jews did could persuade the Arabs to agree to Zionist settlement and open-ended Jewish immigration: prerequisites to the survival of the Jews and to the continuation of Jewish history.
It was in the shadow of his disagreement with the binationalists, and while he was heading up the rescue of children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, that Ruppin found the time to finish the works which made his reputation in the world, such as it is.
Ruppin’s many books were actually one book continually revised, expanded, updated. The last two—The Jews in the Modern World (1935) and The Jewish Fate and Future (1940)—rounded it out and comprised the stuff of his lectures, delivered by him painfully in the language of the embryonic state.
Nothing if not radical, Ruppin starts by trying to define who a Jew is. “On the face of it,” he writes, this is “an easy matter to determine”—a Jew is someone “who belongs to the Jewish religion.” But what of all the people, especially in the U.S., USSR, and Central and Western Europe, who have shed religious practice and belief, yet still think of themselves or are considered by others to be Jews? These “fully assimilated” or “half-assimilated” Jews were already estimated to make up half the Jews in the world, and Ruppin was not about to count them out—let alone serious Zionists like himself who were not religious, either.
If the Jews had ceased being definable as members of a religious community, were they a race, as many of those who hated them, and some who did not, were saying? Ruppin is not consistent here. In his early books, he does refer to the Jews often as a race, among other things, and even in his last revisions the word creeps in, for example when he speaks of “intermarriage with other races.” Ahead of it in certain ways, Ruppin in others was a man of his time, and of his 19th-century education.
Since no one more than 50 years later can do any better, we should pardon Ruppin for never quite deciding who a Jew is and what the Jews are. The main point is that this “nation”—the term he used most often—had until recently been bound together by religion. But that was changing, and the change put the survival of this indefinable group in question as never before.
It had been at risk, of course, since the Romans burned the Temple and most of the Jews were dispersed from their sliver of land. Ever since, they had “carried on a desperate fight for existence, not with weapons or physical force, but by tenacious resistance to oppression.” Hope, ritual, and belief gave the Jews the strength to endure—hope in “the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of Zion,” the 24-hour, day-in and day-out ritual of religious observance and belief in “their mission as heralds of the one God.”
Their religion had defined and preserved the Jews in their dispersion: that was Ruppin’s basic answer to what he called the “riddle” of Jewish survival. But his own secularism, and his realism, told him that for the majority of modern Jews, a return to Orthodoxy was not in the cards. As for a non-Orthodox variety of Judaism, like Reform, which had seen the light of day in Germany and was constructing temples all over the U.S., it might hold some Jews a while longer, postpone assimilation a generation or two. But since it demanded and engendered “no . . . spirit of self-sacrifice,” the tides of assimilation would crumble it, too.
Of course, assimilation was not a new story. “Wherever the Jews lived as equals in the midst of a high civilization based on science and philosophy rather than on religion,” as in Hellenistic Alexandria and Arab Spain, there had been assimilation, with demographic losses. But in the past, while one branch of Jewry might shrivel, another would send forth “new shoots.” Poland was the best example of a country where a great many Jews had retained their identity, their unreconstructed religion, and often their self-respect—largely thanks to the inferiority of the culture around them. Lately, however, things had changed:
The protection afforded by lower standards of civilization among their neighbors . . . has pratically disappeared because a large number of Jews have now moved to countries on a high cultural and economic level, and even in the backward countries the level is improving. The “reservations” within which Jewish culture and religion were hitherto preserved are continually shrinking in size, while the front open to attack by outside influences is extending.
In the Western countries to which millions of East European Jews had managed to go before the Bolshevik coup and the American anti-immigration laws of 1924, Ruppin expected assimilation to do its worst. “Civilized and economically advanced countries,” of which the United States was the model now that Germany had reverted to barbarism, made it “extraordinarily difficult for the Jews to maintain themselves as a separate group.” The flusher the times, the lustier the process of assimilation. “Thus, paradoxically, the countries most favorable to the advancement of the individual Jew are least favorable to the survival of the Jewish nation.”
Ruppin’s brief section on the U.S. in Jews of the Modern World is entitled “Ascendancy of American Jewry.” He himself had spent the better part of 1922-24 in the U.S. Traveling with Weizmann and Louis Brandeis, he collected money and wooed men like Louis Marshall and other worthies of German background away from their nervous anti-Zionism. Though none became Jewish nationalists, some toned down their views, and a few gave contributions which came in very handy.
Ruppin seems to have taken care not to dive too deeply into life in the New World. Was it lest he become enchanted? America had swallowed up more than one Zionist with a feeble will or a wandering eye. But he learned that something without precedent in Jewish history, at least in scope, was going on. “Never in the Diaspora have so many million[s of] Jews lived in one country in freedom and comfort.” It testifies to his intelligence that he could write this at a time when Henry Ford was publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Harvard was instituting quotas, Palm Beach was restricted, and the sweatshop had by no means disappeared.
But as different, indeed unprecedented, as the American Diaspora was in some ways, it was not different enough to lift it clear of Jewish history, above the corrosive givens wearing down the Diaspora as a whole. In fact, this huge, prosperous, free community was more vulnerable to assimilation than any other, since the U.S. was a “highly civilized and economically advanced” country where church and state did not mix—i.e., where the perfect atmosphere obtained for assimilation.
Not that the American Jews wanted to vanish. Their motto was accommodation, not assimilation. They proposed to be fully American, to swim in the ocean of American civilization and freedom and possibility, while preserving their heritage somehow and passing it on to their children.
This was commendable in Ruppin’s eyes but probably impossible of fulfillment. He could not imagine how the native-born, enjoying “full American citizenship” and speaking only English, acquainted with “Jewish religion and Jewish history” only through “homeopathic doses” received in Sunday school, would be able to survive as a distinct group. The apparent vitality of Jewish culture in America—as, for example, in the Yiddish press and theater—was spurious and transient, a spinoff of the arrival of millions of Yiddish-speakers from 1881 to 1924. Jewish life in America did not and could not have the requisite depth and fire and staying power it had in Poland—or, more important, in the yishuv.
The chief effect and cause of assimilation in America, Ruppin predicted, would be not so much conversion as “mixed marriages.” His diary has no record of his taking in Abie’s Irish Rose, which opened in 1924. But he might as well be referring to that smash Broadway hit when he writes that even when assimilation is not the purpose of marrying out, the effect over the generations must be the same.
When the play opened and Ruppin wrote this, the American intermarriage rate was a mere 5 percent, a figure he knew and which did not throw him off. He was sure that as the children of the Lower East Side and Brownsville made themselves at home, they would follow the lead of the Sephardim and German Jews who had preceded them to the New World and choose exogamy more and more. “The frequency of mixed marriages increases parallel with the length of the stay of the Jew in the United States.” This was a simple fact, recorded also by the New York sociologist Julius Drachsler in 1920.
Besides stating facts, Ruppin was also capable of deriving laws. Here is one, in his next-to-last book, published in 1935: “Intermarriage, as soon as it appears on a large scale, marks the end of Judaism.”
If the rate in America was negligible in the mid-1920’s, in Mitteleuropa it was not. In the middle years of Weimar Germany, it was 44.8 percent and going up. Thronging behind Ruppin’s neat columns of figures was a messy crowd of true-life stories—Jewish-Gentile couplings and marriages and uncouplings and offspring in the stylish, rotten heart of Europe.
A scientist, Ruppin did not have to provide his readers with gossip. Besides, the German-speakers among them were as likely to be familiar with these stories as, no doubt, he himself was, even after he left Berlin for Jerusalem, where the ex-Germans, ex-Austrians, and ex-Czechs kept up with the doings in that world they had presumably said good-bye and good riddance to.
The traffic of books, letters, and people between the yishuv and Europe, except during world wars, was heavy and ran both ways. Those who could afford it regularly visited the Old Country to rest, ski, attend to Zionist business, see relatives and friends, catch the newest sensation. For example, Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, and his wife Fanya were in Berlin in 1932, where they not only met Scholem’s friend, the critic Walter Benjamin, but took in the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill collaboration, Die Dreigroschenoper (“The Threepenny Opera”). Such people as the Scholems would return to Palestine with new books in German, fragile recordings of the intermarried Bruno Walter conducting the works of the intermarried Gustav Mahler, and much intelligent gossip.
Any reader of newspapers would remember that the Jewish Kurt Eisner, weak boss of the Bavarian Communist statelet in 1918, had been assassinated by a Count Arco Valley, who sought thereby to prove to his right-wing German friends that he was all right, even if his mother was Jewish. A steady reader of current German literature—and there were many among these Zionists—would also be familiar with the saga of Karl Kraus, guardian of the German language, Jewish anti-Semite, who fell in love with a succession of lovely shikses, none of whom would marry him, even after he had temporarily converted, including the Baroness Sidonie Nadherny von Borutin, at whose rambling country estate the great satirist would take breaks from Vienna and to whom he dedicated much of his finest poetry.
These were some of the more famous cases in the realm of assimilation, achieved or at least attempted, of which Ruppin must have known. He could depend on fellow Palestinians to keep him fully in the picture about others. Kurt Weill’s brother settled on Mount Carmel, the garden spot overlooking Haifa which Ruppin planned and launched. Else Lasker-Schueler, the once-intermarried bohemian and perhaps the most amazing German poet of this century after Rilke, showed up in Jerusalem in 1938 and lived and wrote there in poverty until her death in 1945. Scholem’s brother, still in Germany, was an intermarried Communist. And young Teddy Kollek from Vienna, then a kibbutznik, could tell the story of a certain Alice “Litzi” Friedmann, who in 1934 had married a stuttering charming boy just graduated from Cambridge by the name of Philby. “I wouldn’t call it exactly a marriage of convenience,” Litzi, who was a Communist and whose first husband was a Zionist, would tell one of Kim’s biographers eons later.
Small, overlapping worlds. Hugo Bergmann, professor of philosophy and founder of the library at the brand-new Hebrew University, stayed in touch with an old schoolmate in his native Prague by the name of Franz Kafka. It is not known whether Ruppin read any of his stories while Kafka was still alive, but Bergmann certainly did, and also corresponded with him, trying to lure him to Zion and the sun.
Kafka, a great receiver of letters, also wrote them by the ream. In one dated 1921 to Ottla, his youngest and favorite sister, we discover the following:
You know that you are doing something out of the ordinary, and that to do it well is extremely difficult. If you never forget the responsibilities implicit in so hard a task, if you are aware that you are breaking ranks with as much self-confidence as that with which David, for instance, left the army, and if, despite this awareness, you retain faith in your strength to carry this matter to some sort of satisfactory conclusion, then—to end on a bad joke—you will have done more than if you had married ten Jews.
David was Joseph David, a Czech Gentile who had skipped from the Austro-Hungarian army and whom Ottla, despite thoughts of becoming a farmer and going to Palestine, was about to marry. Zionists were not supposed to marry out: to do so was to mock themselves and their program. Yet the serious Ottla did, and her brother, whose own interest in Zionism was no pose, was far from dogmatic in his reaction. Others in Prague’s little Zionist circle felt otherwise. The writer Max Brod, trustee-to-be of Kafka’s manuscripts and his best friend, was (according to the Kafka biographer Ernst Pawel) “frankly disapproving” of Ottla and “expressed regret over the prospective loss to Jewry.”
Word of such personal matters and the opinions and reactions of all concerned got to the men and women pioneers and later refugees in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv almost as quickly as it traveled the Prague-Vienna-Berlin axis. News of the eventual sequels would take longer to arrive. When the Nazi deportations started in 1942, Ottla’s marriage to an “Aryan” might have saved her. It might also have meant trouble for David and their two daughters. Kafka’s sister convinced her husband to divorce her to protect their children. She then registered as a Jew and was sent to Theresienstadt, where instead of keeping quiet she volunteered to accompany a transport to Auschwitz. If the rest of Kafka’s family was straightforwardly murdered, Ottla seems to have elected to commit suicide in two steps.
Her brother himself had died in 1924, but one cannot help wondering what his thoughts would have been on this. Did it carry the matter to “some sort of satisfactory conclusion”? What is clear is that Franz himself might have faced the same choices if he had only lived, continued to put Bergmann off, and succeeded in taking away from her husband the woman whom Pawel calls “perhaps [his] one true love.”
Milena Jasenska in grainy photographs looks the sexy, intelligent, generous, brave, slightly unhinged shikse tomboy that she was. Kafka’s translator into Czech, she delighted him even before they met. And when they did, and took a holiday in the country together, he may for the first and last time have found his other half. There was certainly a good deal less between them of that ethereal sadomasochism which had torpedoed his on-again, off-again engagements to his Jewish fiancées, the poor lantern-jawed Felice Bauer followed by Julie Wohryzek.
Milena was liberated, and as long as this very brief affair lasted, she liberated Kafka, giving him a terrific scare. We may imagine that if she had agreed to join him for good, as he perhaps not insincerely begged her to, there would have been a civil marriage, and possibly a child. But generous as Milena was, she was not generous enough to give in to his pleas. She chose to remain with her Jewish husband, a dilettante who may have humiliated her by sleeping around but who was not coughing blood.
In the 1960 edition of his own biography of Kafka, Max Brod calls Milena “a truly great woman.” He gives no hint whether he was gratified or saddened that his friend could not win this Gentile for his wife. Nor are we told what advice, if any, Brod gave Kafka when the latter was experiencing bouts of joy and agony over the Milena connection. At any rate, the rejected Kafka survived long enough to begin and pretty much finish The Castle, with its unpossessable Frieda. Not long after, he was lucky enough to meet the young Dora Diament, fresh from a hasidic upbringing in Poland. They married in the Jewish way, and the girl idolized, nursed, and studied Hebrew with the patient in his last months. He was already too sick to write or, evidently, to procreate.
As for Milena, having divorced her unfaithful Jewish husband soon after Kafka’s death, passed through a Communist phase, and had a daughter with a Gentile, she continued being friendly with Jews. During the war she was taken to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where before she died she impressed with her courage and humane intelligence another Gentile prisoner, the Communist ex-wife of Martin Buber’s son. It is no easier to imagine what the dead Kafka’s thoughts would have been about Milena’s choice than about the one his sister made. But it would have been hypocritical for him to try to steer Ottla away from her non-Jew when he might with nearly unalloyed ecstacy have married his.
Jewish women like Ottla or Litzi Friedmann had to be rebellious if they were to aspire to much of what their brothers were considered entitled to. These arty, horny sons of Jewish businessmen were no doubt expected by their parents to marry the Jewish women who had impatiently waited for their proposals; but before doing so, and even after, they could take their pleasure with servant girls, chambermaids, and actresses without raising a scandal. This held almost as true for the Zionists as it did for the Grunzjuden or “marginal Jews.” In the memoirs Brod composed in Tel Aviv, he remembers “the nights we spent together in theaters, cabarets, or in wine taverns in the company of pretty girls.” The “we” included Bergmann and Kafka, and the girls tended to be neither middle-class nor Jewish.
With variations, the scene was replicated in the other capitals of Kultur. It was the sort of thing anti-Semites fretted over tremendously, as in Mein Kampf:
The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people.
In truth, not all the Gretchens were so innocent.
Arthur Ruppin himself had his chances. He says that at seventeen, he felt “a strong urge.” He also had his own character, however:
Certainly the question of sexual intercourse did not arise; I shrank from it because of my moral beliefs. But I found it pleasant to be in the company of girls and, following the example of the young men I worked with, I began to visit dance halls on Sundays. I never became a good dancer, and the conversations with my dancing partners mostly did not appeal to me, but I persuaded myself that this contact with girls would be a means of alleviating the “sensuality” which plagued me.
Jewish sons more comfortable in their skins or highly sexed than Ruppin could enjoy themselves. There were dangers, of course. One was falling in love and being rejected, like Kraus, like Kafka. Another was VD. A third was finding yourself on the brink of an intermarriage with a woman too far beneath your station. The fourth was marrying an anti-Semite.
Beware the shikse! Maybe she would not, like Delilah, actually deliver her Jewish husband to his enemies, but she would throw his origins in his face when her superego nodded, or would turn her back when the going became rough. This clincher, pragmatic rather than ideological, was adduced by a number of Jewish writers in German. Thus, Lion Feuchtwanger, a novelist married all his life to a Jewish woman, has his bachelor hero’s German mistress in The Oppermanns drop him when the Nazis triumph—this, despite the fact that more than half the refugees who fetched up with Feuchtwanger in Los Angeles were Berlin and Vienna Jews or half-Jews whose Gentile wives stood by them through danger and exile: Fritz Lang’s, for instance, and Kurt Weill’s, and Bruno Walter’s, and Max Reinhardt’s, and Franz Werfel’s. Was it a libelous generalization? Life provided enough instances of the non-Jewish wife leaving the Jewish husband, even when they were both refugees, to half-justify the smear.
If the shikse was undependable, so was her rarer counterpart, the Gentile husband of the Jewish woman. Into the mouth of a not-unsympathetic, not-unintelligent Jewish character in one of his novels, Arthur Schnitzler, Herzl’s confidant and fellow Viennese man of letters, puts these words:
Do you believe that there is a single Christian on earth, even the noblest and most just, who, if his best friend, his mistress, or his wife happens to be Jewish, would not, in a moment of anger or irritation, reproach them with their Jewishness?
Scholem was to recall one of his mother’s female cousins who intermarried at “the beginning of the 1890’s,” only to be deserted “a few years later.” Then, in 1911, his mother’s sister, a physician, intermarried with a colleague:
The big test came in 1933. After a while my uncle discovered . . . that he was an “Aryan” and asked my aunt Kathe to release him so he could marry a German. Thus my aunt was later taken to the ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she died.
The frailty of the mixed marriage under the pressure of the Nazis and the race laws is also the burden of The Jewish Wife, a playlet by none other than (the non-Jewish) Bertolt Brecht. Judith tells Fritz, “chief surgeon at the clinic,” that she is going to Amsterdam “for a time,” hoping that her husband will either offer to go into exile with her or try to talk her out of it. He does neither. This sketch packs a certain wallop, and it is only ironic that it should be the work of a man who was perpetually beastly to his doggishly faithful, masochistic Jewish Communist spouse, Helene Weigel, in Weimar Germany, in Hollywood, and lastly in the German Democratic Republic.
And what about the Zionists? Most of them having left religion behind, it was nationalist ideology which kept them from marrying out and having to face such moments of truth. The few who did intermarry could be counted on the fingers of one hand and represented the kind of exceptions which prove rules. Take Martin Buber, guru of the more soulful of the German-speaking Zionists. Dumped in childhood by his mother and raised by his grandfather in Galicia, the young Buber drank up Nietzsche and the opera in Vienna, Berlin, Zurich. For five years he lived with Paula Winkler, a Catholic from Munich, without marrying her. They had two children during that period, exactly when Herzl was founding the Zionist movement and Buber was joining it, giving Zionist lectures, and briefly editing the Zionist organ, Die Welt.
Buber’s domestic situation caused talk. One of his younger admirers, the historian Hans Kohn, tried later to cast it in a positive light:
The young Jew, who longed at that time for a maturity of Jewish peoplehood in the fullness of living form illuminated by beauty, found in this young woman, in whose being, as with many southern Germans, romantic sense-forms and Nordic thoughtfulness were joined, not only understanding for the dreams and strivings of his people, but also the embodiment of that free, beautiful, self-confident humanity that since the Enlightenment many of the best young Jews had found in non-Jewish women.
Yet if Buber was to have standing in Zionism, things would have to be formalized with a marriage, and not just any marriage. Paula Buber in 1905 converted to Judaism in the Orthodox way, including a dip in the ritual bath. “I grow in your cause,” she wrote her betrothed, like Ruth in the Bible. “It will be mine and that of our children.” A Jewish wedding followed. Although at least one of Buber’s friends persisted in cutting him for a few more years, the other Zionists were placated, at least officially.
The union ran for another 56 years and reportedly was a fairly happy, rather creative partnership. Paula, who wrote novels under a masculine pen-name and was one of the first women to cross the Alps on a bicycle, kept a spotless home and helped Buber lighten his prose. She and Martin raised as Jews the daughters of their son Raphael, who had been left by his Gentile wife, the same woman who met Milena Jasenska in Ravensbruck. The only suggestive fact, perhaps, is that when Paula died on holiday in Venice in 1961, she was buried there. Buber, who died in Jerusalem four years after, lies alone.
Despite all these complications reaching even into the yishuv, it was still the only place where the Jewish birth rate was rising when Ruppin published his last two books. Everywhere else it had been declining steeply for a generation—this, after more than a century of population explosion. In fact, in countries like Germany and Austria, Jewish deaths had run ahead of births as early as 1909. Jews had everywhere taken to birth control in advance of and more efficiently than their neighbors.
A modern type, Ruppin was not against birth control in principle; he opposed it only if practiced so devotedly that “the nation is threatened with gradual extinction.” But when coupled with a high rate of intermarriage, low fertility did threaten the Jews of the Diaspora with just that. What was prudential and reasonable for the individual, and for any number of Jewish couples and families, was in the not-so-long run deadly for the group, especially if that group was fast assimilating anyway. Ruppin offered an anthropological comparison with a Zionist twist to explain why the Jews he knew best—those whose mother-tongue was German—had actually begun choosing death over life while Hitler was still an art student in Vienna:
Much as primitive peoples lose their traditional ways of living and their enjoyment of life under the impact of alien influences, and voluntarily die out, the Jews in these countries are tending to “race suicide.”
Looking ahead, he reckoned on “stagnancy or a decline in the number of Jews in the world.” What could be done? In the Diaspora, nothing much. The only answer was promptly to settle a great many more Jews in Zion, where, experience showed, they all started having more children without needing to go back to religion, and without renouncing modernity.
These numbers and this solution were tendered by a man who was himself the father of four Jewish children, all conceived, and three born, in the Land of Israel. We come back to the family portrait taken in 1927. Palestine when Ruppin moved there was no place for a husband, even if he were a Zionist, to let his wife, thirty-six years old, go into labor with their first child. Therefore, three months before her time, Ruppin took Selma back to Berlin. They engaged a “well-known obstetrician” who proceeded to botch up—though a healthy child was born, the uterus was torn. Selma was then operated on to have it “fixed.” The child was Ruth, the sad-eyed teenager of the portrait.
In 1912, Selma became pregnant again. This time she was confined in Jaffa, where the doctor and midwife did not realize until after the baby was dead that the badly-repaired womb was not contracting as it should. “After they had removed the child artificially, blood-poisoning set in.” Ruppin’s first wife died and was buried on the Mount of Olives.
Ruppin states in his memoirs that this was “the first great sorrow of my life.” After it he worked twice as hard, at least until World War I started and he, Ben-Gurion, and others were asked to leave by the Turks. Waiting out the war in Constantinople, he met and married a considerably younger German Jewish woman, Hannah Kahn, with whom he was to have three more children, the last when he was 50 years of age. The children cheered him up, the Arabs and Nazis fitfully depressed him. In an expanded chapter on anti-Semitism in The Jewish Fate and Future, Ruppin considers Nazism and the Palestinian riots of 1929 and uprising of 1936-39. He differentiates between Arab “hatred of the Jews” and European racial anti-Semitism. The difference for him is not that the Arabs have a rational grievance over Palestine, but that in Zion “the Jews are able to defend themselves from attack, and no psychical sufferings or humiliation can be inflicted on them . . . for they have no desire for assimilation with the Arabs and are out to develop their own culture.” By contrast, those Jews in Europe, especially Germany, who tried hardest to assimilate culturally were now the most defenseless.
He was not so well—he was growing deaf and had other problems. The yishuv, however, thanks partly to him, was almost ready for its debut as a state. The last entry in his diary is for December 20, 1942. Twelve days later, working in his garden, he died.
A boulevard linking the Knesset building and downtown Jerusalem, which passes by one of the campuses of the Hebrew University, is named after Arthur Ruppin, as is a kibbutz in the Beit She’an valley. The Jews of Israel still thrive, just as he predicted they would, and still struggle with their enemies. And, just as he predicted they would, most Jews in the “highly civilized and economically advanced” regions of the Diaspora continue to intermarry, to have too few children, in a word, to assimilate. Prophet though he was, this spectacle would have given him no satisfaction to behold.