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As the sages wrote, to save one life is like saving the whole world

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Jewish refugees from Russia at the port of Liverpool, 1882 | Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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When the Romans decided to put an end to the sovereign state of the Jews, they adopted the time-tested solution of other empires going back to the Assyrians and the Babylonians. But this time they dispersed not only the elites but the common people as well. This was after slaughtering one million Jews when they razed Jerusalem. They had tried everything. They broke up the territory into provinces under Roman appointees. They put a “Jew” in charge. Nothing appeared to work.

Taking courage from the national resurgence that threw off Greek rule, led by the Maccabees three hundred years earlier, the Jews kept on revolting in search of freedom. (This is what Rome feared one hundred and fifty years earlier from the followers of Jesus, and why he was executed.) The open revolt led, ultimately, (in about 130 AD,) to the Roman Senate sending twelve legions to Israel to put down the revolt.  (The Brits were conquered by two legions.)

Yet a generation later, Josephus, the Jewish historian of the Roman regime, estimated that Jews constituted ten per cent of the population of the Empire, estimated at one hundred million souls. Many of these Jews turned out to be believers in the Jesus myth, and were among its first martyrs. But why, again, did they not disappear into the melting pot? Why did their tribe persist as an ethnic and philosophical entity?

I cannot turn to an exalted scholarship or training to justify my opining on this. It seems obvious to me, however, from my own background, that the Jews had the advantage of a coherent social and intellectual philosophy which was superior to the offerings of the peoples around them. Why would you settle for less?

They had the idea that they had been selected by a supernatural being to enlighten the world by their example. They had a concept of the importance of community, and an allegiance to it, that sustained individuals in distressing environments. In periods where such concepts were rare, their community institutions provided an infrastructure paralleling what we find in modern nations, carried over from systems in place in their original homeland. The primacy of education within their culture ensured a transfer of their values from one generation to another.

There was universal identification with the idea of a common destiny for all Jews, so that those with means accepted voluntary taxation to support the community infrastructure. Theirs was internal self-government overlaid with the patina of religious obligation.

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It turns out the general society saw value in the tenets inherent in the Biblical injunctions so that their adoption has been taken up by many other tribes. But, it appears human to revile those to whom one owes the greatest debts.

The sister religions have often sought the elimination of those who might act as witnesses to the reality that their own origins might not have been the original creative idea. As this has played in its many manifestations, the descendants of the original ten million Jews of Roman times, have been decimated. There are billions of Christians and Moslems, but there are only fourteen million Jews. To appreciate how fragile this process is, it has been reported that the DNA of Ashkenazi (European) Jewry can be traced back to as few as twenty-seven individuals. Truly, as the sages wrote, to save one life is like saving the whole world.

Improvements in civilization have played their part. With the opening of some societies in the nineteenth century, many Jews threw off the religious constraints which bound them to their communities and vanished into the surroundings. In the twentieth century, as intermarriage became a social alternative, many Jews were lost to the tribe in the second and third generations. (Some people believe that even Lincoln had a Jewish background from English forbearers, as did Roosevelt from his Dutch ancestry.) And then we have the Holocaust. Nevertheless, a remnant remain.

The Maccabees received their father's blessing | Photo: Wikipedia Commons

After World War I, the Wilsonian philosophy of national rebirth was generally adopted as empires were swept away. The travails of the Jews were noted and Britain was given the mandate by the League of Nations to establish a Jewish National Home in Palestine and what is now Jordan, pieces of the Ottoman Empire that were dismembered. Britain quickly rewarded an Arab ally by giving what is now Jordan to the Hashemites. Then, in 1947, Britain abandoned the mandate, with the expectation that surrounding Arab nations would absorb the rest.

Egypt and Jordan did in fact seize portions of the territory. But a small group of Jews, motivated by the two-thousand-year-old longing to return, (some six hundred thousand in total,) threw back the armies of seven nations, (at a cost of ten per cent who perished in the struggle,) and retained a small sliver of land which they declared as a Jewish State. In 1967, they were threatened with attack again and defeated the attackers, driving out the Egyptians and the Jordanians, and finally regaining Jerusalem. After nearly two millennia, Jews control most of their original state again.

With statehood, Jewish survival takes on a whole new dimension. For the first time in these millennia, Jews have a place to run to when they face implacable hate. And now, those who seek their destruction have someone to answer to besides the Deity, with His/Her interminable patience.

Army chief chaplain Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who is surrounded by IDF soldiers, blows the shofar in front of the western wall in Jerusalem during the Six Day War | Photo: National Photo Collection of Israel

The big news is that Jews in this new state have not only survived, but thrived. The standard of living in Israel, while they have the same troubles as most other countries, matches that of some of the world’s richest. Born without natural resources, it has made a virtue out of necessity. The new State has proven to be a wellspring of new ideas, bringing benefits to humanity near and far. In medicine, agriculture, technology and commerce, the Start-up Nation sows gifts in every area of human endeavor. And by the way, whether you’ve noticed it or not, it has sharp elbows when bad things are attempted against its welfare, and the welfare of all Jews. With its Arab citizens, citizens, living better lives in Israel than they would in any Arab country, they are only nine million people, much smaller than many of the world’s larger cities. But wherever in the world people are in trouble, emergency teams, obeying biblical injunctions, are there to lend a helping hand.

Jews have survived and will survive, to carry on their mission, bringing positive ideas to all of humanity.

In July, as they do annually, Jews remembered on Tisha B’av with a fast, and mourned the destruction of the ancient Jewish state and the fall of biblical Jerusalem.

Max Roytenberg is an author, poet and blogger, with many published articles in Jewish periodicals in Dublin, New York, Winnipeg and Vancouver. After a career as an Economist and Executive in the Food Industry, in Canada and abroad, he writes, and lives with his Bride, in Vancouver. He has children and grandchildren in the US, Canada, China and Israel. His last book, “Hero In My Own Eyes”, is available through major booksellers and on Amazon.

 
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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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