A Jew? So Few!

Meyer Lansky, z”l, the Jewish genius of the gambling underworld in America from the days of Prohibition until the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, never gambled in his own casinos. His reputation was made as a master manipulator and manager whose word and handshake, according to ex-NY detective chief, Ralph Salerno, was better than a guarantee from a bank. He always said that the only game in any casino where the player had even a chance to win, was the game of Blackjack (21) where the odds of winning were only 1 in 17 against the house.

With almost 7 Billion people in the world right now, there are only approximately 14.2 Million Jews. The Jewish people make up 0.2% of the planet’s total population. So, to be born Jewish, you have  a 1 in 505 chance to accomplish that. There were 17 million Jews in 1939, the first year of the Second World War;  before the Holocaust took the lives of 6 million Jews, two-thirds of the Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Europe and  one-third of world Jewry including 1.5 million children under the age of fourteen-an entire generation whose loss was proportionately greater than the “Lost Generation” of World War One.

The Roman Empire, at its height has been estimated to have included around 70 million people of whom 10% were Jews. The Roman author, Seneca, wrote that one cannot traverse a single street in Rome without coming across a synagogue. Alexandria, in Egypt, had a larger number of Jewish citizens than did Jerusalem during the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE. There were established Jewish communities throughout the Roman Empire, many of which even preceded the Roman conquests of those lands.

However, centuries of persecution, slaughter and expulsions, destroyed thousands of Jewish communities throughout Europe and the Middle East.  With the advent of Christianity and the anti-Semitism preached by the Roman Catholic Church and Jew hating authors like St John Chrysostom who, in the 2nd century CE, called for the elimination of the Jews from all of Christendom. As the Feudal Ages descended upon Europe, the Jews were the only non-Christian people (except for the vanishing number of barbarians and pagans) in an ocean whose waters were becoming increasingly perilous.

During all the Crusades, as the zealots marched across Europe, especially along the Rhine River where there were great Jewish communities long established, the Crusaders fell upon the hapless Jews, crying “Deus Veult!” “God wills it!” and 10,000 Jewish communities and hundreds of thousands of Jews, were butchered, raped and their settlements pillaged. Throughout southeastern Europe and in the Balkans, those Jews met the same fate as their fellow co-religionists along the banks of the Rhine.

And the killing didn’t end there. When the Crusaders got to the land of Israel, their murderous habits continued in the land that they sought to liberate from the Moslem occupiers. Strange how the Crusaders fought the Moslems to take possession of the homeland of the Jews by destroying those people who clung to the land of their inheritance. In Tiberius (Tverya), Ramle, Ashkelon, Caesarea, Gaza (yes, there was a large Jewish community there) and even in Jerusalem-where the last surviving Jews of the city were herded at lance point into the synagogue and burned alive.

But let us not, even for a moment, believe the mythology that purports that the Jews lived peacefully and with tolerance in the Arab world. Mohammed slaughtered the Jewish men of Medina who refused to accept Islam  and sold the Jewish women and children into slavery. Wherever Jews lived in the lands of Islam, they were 2nd class citizens suffering under  sharia law which proscribed discrimination. They paid the “jizya,” – a tax on non-Moslems, they could not ride a camel because that would make their head higher than a Moslem’s, they could not pass a Moslem on the right side, nor could their synagogues be built higher than a mosque. And the first distinctive clothing used to identify Jews was not a European innovation, but a Moslem one.

And if you believe that the current venomous anti-Israel (anti-Semitism in its most recent political formulation) propaganda is a new phenomenon borne of the Arab-Israel crisis, see the following list of murderous pogroms directed at Jews all over the Islamic world;

  1. Aleppo-1850,1875
  2. Damascus-1840, 1848,1890
  3. Beirut-1862,1874
  4. Jerusalem-1847( Jews were already a majority in the city at that time)
  5. Cairo-1844,1890,1901,1902
  6. Mansura(Egypt)-1877
  7. Alexandria-1870,1882,1901,1907
  8. Port Sa’id-1903, 1908
  9. Istanbul-1870,1874
  10. Edirne (Turkey)-1872
  11. Izmir (Turkey)-1872,1876
  12. Baghdad-1868, 1941( the “farhud” “pogrom”-launched by the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali revolt-180 Jews killed, over 800 wounded)
  13. Meshed (Iran)-1839.

Notice that all these anti-Jewish murders were carried out BEFORE 1948 when the State of Israel arose and certainly before any Israeli settlements were established in Yehudah and Shomron. Furthermore, the Arab assaults on the Jews of the land during the period of the British mandate in 1920, 1921, the massacre of the ancient Jewish community in Hevron in 1929, all took place before there was a Maaleh Adumim where I am now writing this article.

No doubt that the Holocaust was the defining modern tragedy that did not decimate, but tertiate( wipe out by a total third) world Jewry. And I haven’t even dwelt on the 31,912 Jewish victims of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions that finally terminated in 1808.

According to Professor Sergio DellaPergola, the most eminent demographer of world Jewry and renown expert from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, if the Jewish people had been left alone, without the centuries of dispersion and depredation, the number of Jews in the modern world would be in the area of 270 MILLION-almost 20 times the present number. Imagine that!

The fact that we, as a people have survived and more so, even been known in the world, is a miracle. There are civilizations far more numerous than ours that have not made a dent on the world stage, yet Jews have won 194 out of 850 Nobel prizes awarded since the beginning of that ceremony.

After 20 centuries of homelessness, almost 6.5 million Jews are home in Israel with the native born population approaching 75%. A nation smaller than Lake Ontario has absorbed. per capita, more immigrants than even the United States.

Numerically, we shouldn’t even have been heard of after the Assyrians ransacked the northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled 5/6ths of our people. After the Jewish Revolt of 66 BCE and the last Jewish Rebellion against Rome in 132 CE, with a million dead and our country laid waste, the door of history should have closed upon us. But have we not only survived, we have thrived.

True, our numbers are still few, far less than they were in 1939, but we have restored our sovereignty and amazingly, our native birthrate is climbing and our brothers and sisters from abroad, from a world increasingly anti-Semitic, are returning home to Israel.

Yes, we are a people small in number. There are places where there are no longer any Jews. Yes, there are Jewish communities in all 50 states of the United States, even places like Montana, Idaho and Nebraska-for not all American Jews live in New York, Florida and California.

Yes, there are Jews in Japan, China, Thailand and even Indonesia.

To be born Jewish is against most odds, to be born as an Israeli Jew is even more an astronomical feat of numerically miraculous proportions. I don’t think even Meyer Lansky would “make book” on odds like that.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.