I read a lot of books. Perhaps it is because it is a way to increase my world vision. Or perhaps it is because I commute to New York each day on the train. I have to admit that Schlepping Through the Alps: My Search for Austria’s Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering Shepherd by Sam Apple is one of the most unusual and surprising books that I have read in a long time. It is the true story of a guy who is a shepherd in modern Austria who also has a particular fondness for Yiddish music. These Yiddish songs keep him entertained during the arduous mountainous hikes—especially in the winter. (A lot of other things keep him entertained but you will have to read the book for that.) Singing Yiddish music—everywhere, anywhere, invited or not, is also how he exposes Austrians to Jewish folk music, a culture that many tried to destroy during World War II.
While I didn’t expect that Hans Breuer the shepherd would have been raised by a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, I wasn’t surprised by it either. After all, if nearly half of the Jewish families in the United States are intermarriages, most Jewish communities around the world have an even higher proportion of intermarriages in the mix. Furthermore, one of the things we learned in our own study of adult children of intermarriage, A Flame Still Burns, is that since their Jewish identity is usually shaped through secular culture, it is often informed primarily by the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. So it didn’t surprise me that while Hans knew little about Jewish practice, he knew a great deal about anti-Semitism. This fueled his identity and his love for Yiddish music. Perhaps there is yet another lesson to be learned about the power of culture as an educational force. So “If you ever happen to be hiking the Alps and you see a man singing Yiddish songs as he watches a dog chasing a sheep in a raincoat, no need for concern.”
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