Twenty years after Samuel Pepys stopped writing his famous diary of life in London, Gluckel of Hamelin (1646-1724), the widow of a Jewish gem and metal dealer in Hamburg, took up her pen. Her diary, written in Yiddish, was intended to be a chronicle of her life and a guide to proper living for her children. When it was formally published in 1892, based on heirloom copies, it was quickly recognized as a document of great value for its insights into Jewish-German life of that era. The fact that it was a literary work written by a woman is another extraordinary fact, considering its time.
Gluckel, the daughter of a Hamburg merchant, received a basic education before being betrothed, at the age of 12, to Chaim, a young merchant from Hamelin. Two years later they were married and, eventually, settled in Hamburg. In addition to raising their children, 12 of whom survived to adulthood, Gluckel helped with the family business. While Chaim traveled across Europe, Gluckel managed the accounts and contracts. When Chaim passed away in 1689, Gluckel was able to take over the business and make it thrive.
That same year, Gluckel began her diary. Over the next decade, while running the business and arranging marriages for her children, Gluckel continued to write. In the finished diary, these years are set into five small books.
In 1699, Gluckel moved to Metz, where one of her daughters was living, and married her second husband, Cerf Levy, a wealthy banker. Two years later, he went bankrupt, losing both his and Gluckel’s wealth. During the next ten years he unsuccessfully attempted to recover his loss. After he died in 1712, Gluckel continued on her own for three years before moving in with her daughter. During her second widowhood, she completed two more diary books.
Gluckel of Hamelin passed away in 1724.
Trivia: Among Gluckel’s descendants are Heinrich Heine, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Bertha Pappenheim.
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