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David Rosenthal

From Exodus to Exodus

Moïse recevant les Tables de la Loi Date: 1966; Saint-paul-de-vence, France. Marc Chagall, Fair Use. Wikiart.

The founding of the Jewish or Hebrew nation, the State of Israel, has such a remote origin that it can be found in the Bible, specifically in the book of Exodus. Moses is the hero of the story. Moses, the Hebrew, descended from the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, viceroy of Egypt. Moses was part of the second generation of Israelites born in Egypt, and his story begins in the event in which the life of the first-born of Israel, runs lethal risk, because the Pharaoh orders that all males who enjoyed the right of primogeniture, should be exterminated, because the arcane so designated due to the prophecy that the advisers of Pharaoh were clear.

Moses, son of Amram and Jochebed of the tribe of Levi, was “saved by the waters”, as the etymology of his name confirms. A name that in fact contains the prophecy, since it claims that Moses, or Moshe in Hebrew, would be the one who would liberate the Israelite people, his people, from the slavery in which they found themselves. And, precisely, the one who rescues the Hebrew child is the daughter of Pharaoh, the most important leader of the land in those days. Mosyteu “For I took him out of the waters”, hence the name Moses, given by his putative mother Bithiah or Batyah, which means “daughter of HIM”.

As for Moses’ adoptive mother, it is known that she was even known by the nickname Yehudiah, in Hebrew “the Jewess”. The story goes that she, the daughter of Pharaoh, was one of the Egyptians who converted to the monotheistic religion, leaving behind polytheism, and accompanying the Israelite people in their Exodus to the land of Canaan, later Israel.

Long is the story in the desert. There Israel would become a nation. On Mount Sinai, the most important event of the bible and of the Jewish people took place, that is, the giving of the ten commandments, which would form the Ark of the Covenant, worth all the riches of the earth. Likewise, it is at Sinai that HE of Israel is perceived in the presence of the Israelites and the Egyptians who went out with Moses. At Sinai, all nations saw, heard or heard the story of the appearance of the divine presence on earth.

Through ten plagues, ranging from the turning of water into blood to the death of the firstborn, HE enabled Moses and Aaron, by divine magic, to deliver Israel from material and immaterial bondage, and fulfilled the promise made to Abraham and his descendants to give them a land, the Promised Land.

Another marvellous event, unequalled in biblical history and history in general, is when Moses, as an object of his Creator, opens the waters of the Red Sea to save his brothers from a final fate under the swords of the mighty Egyptian army. However, this would not be the last time something like this would happen, for after this, the prophet Elijah would also be able to intercede over the waters, making his way on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan River.

Likewise, the fact of the “golden calf”, symbol and almost epitome of the idolatry of the ancient peoples of the East, would be repeated in the history of Israel. The most prominent case takes place in the desert, in the valley of Mount Sinai, when the people of Israel, urged on by the Egyptians who joined the exodus, decide to melt down the gold they managed to bring out of Egypt to build a material deity. A golden calf, which they could worship, returning to the pagan and polytheistic tradition. It is worth mentioning that it was Aaron who built the golden idol. Aaron, Moses’ older brother and Israel’s first High Priest, fulfilled the wishes of the people, who had lost patience and faith in Moses and their God. Thus demonstrating that the struggle against idolatry and slavery is a daily constant, which does not exclude the children of Israel. Moses, seeing that his people had fallen back into idolatry, decided to break the tablets that HE had given him.

However, there was a second chance, and he ascended again to a higher ground both materially and spiritually where the Most High was found, and obtained again the Decalogue or the Ten Words, which changed the history of mankind. This Decalogue, besides emphasising the importance of monotheism and going against all possible forms of idolatry, to the point of iconoclasm, which will later be assimilated by Muslims, though not by Christians, but which constitutes the pure form of the antithesis of idolatry.

Some time later it was Jeroboam, son of King Solomon, who set up a golden calf at Bethel and another at Dan, both ends of his kingdom. This became a great sin, for immaterial idols of a tradition alien to that of Israel were worshipped.

The “Mosaic Law” or “Law of Moses”, i.e. the Pentateuch or Torah, is the backbone of Judaism, and, moreover, the basis of Christianity, understood as the Old Testament, was given on Mount Sinai, to Israel and also to all mankind.

Exodus is also Leon Uris’s bestselling novel, based on the ship Exodus 1947 (formerly President Warfield) and the founding of the modern state of Israel. In it, Uris depicts the plight of the more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors who embarked on an exodus to the former Mandate of Palestine, which was under British jurisdiction.

It was the organisation “Mossad Le’aliyah Bet”, belonging to the Haganah, and charged with promoting “Aliyah Bet”, that is, the clandestine immigration of Jews to the Mandate of Palestine between 1920 and 1948. In fact, several lives were lost under the waters, as the British intercepted most of the ships that sought to reach port. However, the Jews who fled in this exodus to the longed-for Israel were usually deported to the refugee camps they had come from, mainly on the neighbouring island of Cyprus.

The story of the SS Exodus or Exodus 47, despite having a bitter ending, because of those more than 4,500 people who hoped to settle in the land of Israel, after having lived through the horror of persecution, machinery and Nazi extermination, did not succeed. In the territorial waters of today’s Israel, they were attacked by warships. The result was two killed and dozens more wounded. The Exodus, however, made it as far as the port of Haifa, but from there, the occupants were forced to embark on British naval vessels for their final destination, back to Europe. The crew of the Exodus, which had sailed from France, stopped back there.

On their return to France, the Haganah urged the crew not to disembark, but rather to protest by means of a hunger strike. The French authorities resolved not to force the crew to disembark, which left the British in a very difficult position. This dilemma, which made the British feel like they were on the hook, led them to choose to return these survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust in Hebrew) to the place where there was room for such an atrocity as the Holocaust. Germany, specifically Hamburg, where its port was the end of the attempted exodus in the Exodus. The British forced these people, who had lost everything there, to get off their ships. Many of the forced labourers were orphans who had even lost their entire families. In Germany, they had no choice but to return to refugee camps.

The Exodus was a great tragedy, but no worse than the Struma, a predecessor ship, also a ship of escape, flight or exodus. The Struma was a Romanian ship that carried almost 800 Jews who, in 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, were fleeing in search of a better fate than that of Nazi-occupied and collaborationist Romania. And they were not mistaken, for of the 800,000 Jews living in Romania, at least 420,000 were murdered in just three years during the Holocaust. Of the Jews deported from the Bessarabia and Odessa regions, not much was left.

The Bogdanovka concentration camp, then Romania, now Ukraine, is witness to the extermination of more than 40,000 Jews who were shot, burned and frozen to death, many of them digging pits for their own brethren.

The order to kill all the prisoners was given by the German advisor to the Romanian district government and the Romanian district commissioner. The genocide was carried out by Romanian soldiers and gendarmes, Ukrainian civilians from Golta and local ethnic Germans, under the command of the regular Ukrainian police, Kazachievici.

The Struma, an old ship almost 75 years old, served to give some hope to the 781 crew members, who paid a high cost to have a place there. At least 100 were children or babies. From the Black Sea port of Constanza, this ship sailed, never to return. The Struma was destined to land on the coast of what is now the State of Israel, but its defective and worn-out engine together with the bad luck that came together, and after struggling to make it go, even having to return to Romania, it only managed to reach Turkish waters, and it was there that it perished, when a torpedo from a Soviet submarine on Stalin’s orders destroyed it. Of all the passengers on the Struma, only one survived.

On 7 October 2023, a new exodus began, which shares with the biblical exodus the ideal of liberation and freedom. After the massacre and genocide that took place that day in southern Israel by Hamas, its allies, financiers and sympathisers, and whose aim was the annihilation of everyone who was present in that place, just for being Jewish or for being part of the State of Israel in whatever way they were there. Likewise, there is a similarity with the Exodus and the Struma, for the mere fact of not being able to dock in an ideal port, in this case Israel, led to doom, but despite all the losses Israel has suffered, including the more than 1300 Israeli civilians and other nationalities who were recently killed, resilience and hope are still present. As in Egypt, where Israelis were taken captive, for the remaining abductees in Gaza, there is hope for a miracle, such as the parting of the sea, to bring them home. And, there remains the sentiment for peace, Shalom in Hebrew; Salam in Arabic, and Salem, proper to Jerusalem “City of Peace”, full of stories and also of disputes, capital of a physical world and in turn of an immaterial world; spiritual. May the exodus bring with it the liberation of all those who need it, and especially of those who are held hostage, as slaves, as hostages. May there soon be peace.

About the Author
Political scientist, international analyst, researcher, journalist and columnist in various media in Latin America, Spain and Israel. Historical researcher and presenter of "Los pasos de Sefarad en el Nuevo Mundo", a radio programme on Radio Sefarad about the Sephardic heritage in America. He is also a lecturer on many subjects, such as history, literature, Judaism, historical figures, important women in history and mysticism.
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