It’s been a strange few weeks for me, from the kidnapping of our boys to the escalation and ultimately war in Gaza. I have found myself becoming increasingly vocal on social media. While I think the facts are plain for the world to see, the tide of strong anti Zionism and anti-Semitism is even plainer to see.
Originally I was tremendously bothered by hashtags (for example) #Hitlerwasright posts from people I considered friends on FB and it really played on my mind. Saying that, every cloud (however dark) must have some sort of silver lining and coupled with my strong belief that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
For hundreds of years Jews have dealt with discrimination, hate and murder, yet we are still very much here, but more than just existing we are thriving. One might assume that a people should be defeated by its tragic past but this is not the case with us. There are more Jewish Nobel peace prize winners than any other religion; 165 at the last count, we are leaders in every field from Banking, Real Estate, Film and Tech to name but a few. Israel is a modern marvel, a tiny country in a hostile environment yet it has one of the most vibrant economies in the world. Where do all this talent, skill and drive come from? why have we not folded and capitulated to a world that so desperately doesn’t want us.
Well I think our strengths and our talents come of course from G-D but in part forged in the crucible of immense hate & anti-Semitism. The very thing that is meant to destroy us has also shaped the people we are then and now. Throughout history the story remains the same, a familiar one of destruction and oppression in different countries with different leaders but ultimately the same determination.
France, around the year 1242. The much-maligned Jew is allowed to settle under the protection of the Lord of Worms. As a community its first priority is to eke out a living. Jews are not allowed to own land, be doctors, lawyers, teachers or hold public office, being the industrial nation we are, we start to trade and peddle goods. Commerce after all in the only thing we are allowed to do. Along comes the emergence of the Jewish peddlers traveling from town to town selling his meager wares. Other Jews with the same limitations in other parts of Europe do the same, and a Jewish network of peddlers is created throughout Europe and further, so the first nearly global network is established, we buy for a penny and sell for two, in time we become shop keepers, provide credit, introduce Europe to things they had never known before.
However prosperity breeds anti – Semitism, which in turn makes us insular, we stick together and find alternate ways of survival. Schools are not open to us so we self-educate the children. Not being allowed to live in city centers spares us for the black plague (though not the blame) rabid hate means we keep to themselves, we don’t have the distractions of pubs & taverns, so we devote ourselves to learning, all the time becoming a community that is self-sufficient because anti – Semitism left us with no other option, we are after all experts in survival.
Of course with time the tide of hate and jealousy spreads and when the bills of credit get too high the inevitable happens and the Jews of Worms are massacred and the rest are forced to leave behind their shops, homes and go. So the Jews move onto the next place, with a strong understanding now of commerce and trading, a skill that will stand us in good stead for many years to come.
Fast forward a few years and the Jews are given refuge in certain Italian municipalities. Catholic law forbids usury (lending and charging interest) but Jews are allowed to lend money according to the church. We are forbidden from living in city centers, only ghettos, so each Friday, Jews took their dingy little barges and sail up the river docking at the embankments, down goes the gentiles to the “banks” and borrows money. Jews become prolific in banking and a European network from across Italy and Spain is established. Think Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”
Again the cycle repeats itself Anti-Semitism in the form of the Inquisition once again rears its ugly head and Jews are expelled from Spain and Italy, debts are cancelled, ghettos are emptied and the journey starts all over.
The Diaspora continues and each new place provides a new challenge, how to survive each time, how to feed ones family, forcing the Jews to think outside of the box. From peddlers to banker, inventors of medicine for the rich nobles. We learn to adapt and survive in each new environment; our skills and knowledge increase with each trial each tribulation, whatever we find we excel at, not because we are smarter but because we don’t have a wealth of options available to us.
And so we move into the age of enlightenment, the false sense of security sets in, no longer are we isolated and forced to live in Ghettos, universities are open to us, we drink up knowledge with a tremendous thirst. Consequently assimilation is in full force, we achieve greatness in everything we touch, using all the lessons of the past as well as hard work, grit, determination and intelligence hoping that this is here is a real chance to have a “normal life”. But that is not our path it’s never been our path, we are the Jews. Sporadic attacks, makes us remember that it’s not all how it seems. Pogroms, the Dreyfus affair reminds us that Jewish life is fragile never allowing us to get too comfortable with our newfound rights.
Then the greatest evil on earth is perpetrated. Hitler’s final solution, he was determined to succeed where the rest of Europe had failed with the extermination of the Jews. Millions perish and the world stays silent as Europe fills with smoke and ashes of millions. Thanks to German efficiency things were meticulously documented and post war the extent of these atrocities are highlighted. Video reels bringing those harrowing images of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and countless other death camps into the Odeon’s and other movie theaters and a world that had made it a business to torment, malign and destroy these Jews now suddenly can’t stomach their own hate.
For the first time in thousands of years the idea of Jewish Homeland is becoming more of a reality, it’s only taken 6 million lives to get there. However hard it is to except, the creation of the state of Israel would not have been possible had it not be for the precursor of vicious anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The State of Israel is established but not given much chance of survival. This broken people must establish their homeland with their new skills, that of survival and a resolute promise that never again would we march to our slaughter. The holocaust created a new type of Jew, an indestructible one with steel, a new backbone. Jews had stared into the abyss that is death and survived.
Anti-Semitism terrible and destructive has played some role in shaping who we are as a people, we bonded and survived only because of our smarts and nature, backed into a corner we learnt to withstand everything from expulsion, forced conversion, pogroms, systematic genocide and wars. No other peoples would have survived this onslaught, but we are not just still here, we are much more than that. We have flourished, contributed and will keep contributing in spite of the callousness and mistreatment of this world And today we are once again faced not only with an enemy intent on our destruction, Hamas but also BSD, the UN, protests in Paris and Germany calling once again for our destruction. We won’t shy away from the task at hand, for we know in the long term history will repeat itself, we will do what we do best, learn, adapt survive and flourish, each new attack just adds another layer to our multi-faceted people who are today just wanting to be (finally) left alone in peace.