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AUGust 15, 2023

08/14/2023 01:50:22 PM


The indelible connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel begins early in the Torah: It is the land Abram is commanded to travel to, from his birthplace at Ur in Chaldean Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, according to most geographers); it is the birthplace of Isaac and Ishmael, of Jacob and Esau, and Benjamin—although his siblings were born during Jacob’s long exile, working for Laban ‘back home’ in the old country. These assertions are written into the DNA of Jewish identity.

Lived history contradicted this idealized version, and after 70 c.e., through the Bar Kochba revolt that was extinguished by Rome circa 136 c.e., and throughout the centuries of diaspora during which the succession of repressions and frequent expulsions from cities, principalities, and countries by both Christian and Muslim rulers. While neither as bleak nor as ‘lachrymose’ (tearful, as Salo Baron named the course of Jewish history), the result for the survivors into early modern Europe was a perpetual danger of displacement and economic ruination as princes rose and fell, or empires faced challenges that overtaxed the ability of leaders to maintain peace and prosperity.

As the Enlightenment unfolded—the philosophical opening of thought that created the modern ideals of human equality and personal liberty—was written into the American Declaration of Independence and the somewhat later French Declaration of the Rights of Man. The conquering emperor Napoleon sought to remove internal barriers in the full array of his conquered territory that once stretched to the walls of Moscow. His decision through the Great Sanhedrin he convoked in 1806 is often cited as: to the Jews as individuals, all rights; to the Jews as Jews, none.

The meaning became clear as institutions of Jewish life were dismantled, even literally in places such as Alsace, where synagogues were razed—although they were later rebuilt by the French government after Waterloo and the restoration of the monarchy in France affirmed by the Congress of Vienna (1815). While this watershed did not mark the end of persecution for Jews, it set the stage for several major shifts:

1.      The modernization of Jewish communal life, including secular education and civic participation.

2.      The movement of village Jews toward large urban centers, including Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, and New York, to mention just a few.

3.      The internal Jewish struggle between traditionalist and liberalizing Jews along a full spectrum.

4.      Nationalism and pan-Germanism, which identified Jews as an alien element in various countries; the result was racially infused antisemitism. Its culmination was the Nazi Shoah, 1933-45.

One result of this displacement and alienation Jews suffered took shape in 1897, when journalist turned prophet Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress (Basel, Switzerland). In the subsequent 50 years, his goal was achieved in the creation of the State of Israel as a homeland for all Jews (May 14, 1948—at the dissolution of the British Mandate in Palestine granted by the League of Nations in 1920). The founding Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, envisioned and acted to create a secular democracy inside the convoluted borders that were set by an armistice in 1949, a revision to the November 29, 1947, UN approved Partition Plan for Palestine. It did not satisfy any party, save perhaps Great Britain, happy to be relieved of responsibility.

That Israel struggled, but ultimately succeeded in creating a strong economy is well-known. The cost of that success, however, falls into several categories. The other party set to receive a portion of the divided land west of the Jordan River, who call themselves Palestinians, were hindered from a similar course by internal stresses and through their treatment by neighboring states including Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The strife of 1956, 1967, and 1973 in open warfare, and through terrorism peaked in several waves. In each instance, Israel succeeded militarily in carrying the day and held increasingly large sections of the map. The 1978 Camp David and the 1993 Oslo Accords were steps forward. On the positive side, peace and open—if chilly—relations with Egypt and Jordan resulted, and the Palestinian Authority started up as a semi-autonomous and protected entity, although clearly not the promised state that was envisioned in 1947.

Israel’s success has been nourished by successive waves of immigration, from Arab lands, among survivors of Nazi Europe, and filtering in as individuals from many places. The collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed a wave of more than 1,000,000 immigrants who brought skills and education as well as numbers. At the same time, motivated by traditional religious ideas, observant Jews began both arriving and reproducing disproportionately to the settled population. That is significant for both economic and political reasons.

Lest this grown into a full-length treatise, for now, this summary points to the current coalition in the present Israeli government. They will continue to test our values and face the now very vocal opposition of more liberal-minded and deeply concerned Israelis, as well as Jews around the world conscious of the enduring ties between us and Israel.

As Psalm 122 demands: “Sha’alu shalom Yerushalyim” – Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.


A little vocabulary:

Aliyah – ascent; usage includes an honor in synagogue, immigration to Israel.

Yeridah – descent; going downhill, emigrating from Israel.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784