From the Diaspora – with Love: Revisiting 1605

I started my morning as I often do, sipping my coffee and visiting some of the usual websites.  Clicked around the local newspaper site.  Clicked around a couple Israel news sites.  Made my way to a Jewish site I sometimes turn to for inspiration.  Have to start off my day inspired, right?

My inspiring site of choice for the day has some running features.  Personal stories of Jewish journeys… tips and tidbits about Jewish customs and traditions… commentary on the commentaries on the commentaries.  The usual stuff.

And then there’s a “Today in Jewish History” column that lists happenings of consequence to the Jewish people on this date throughout the centuries.  And today there were several entries. 

Did you know that, in 1312 BCE, a year after the Exodus, we were commanded to observe a “second Passover” to bring the celebration to our kinsmen who, for reasons too complicated to get into here, could not observe the original holiday?  Two lengthy paragraphs explain all that. 

Did you know that, in the second century, Rabbi Meir, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva died?  Several paragraphs devoted to that.

In 1933 on this date, the column tells us, the Nazis burned thousands of books written by Jews.  And in 1960 Adolf Eichmann was captured in Buenos Aires.  There’s a critical piece of information included in the three paragraphs on this latter item, which I’ll get to later.  Because first I want to mention one more event that made the list. 

The website says, simply, “Jews of Bisenz Massacred (1605).”  When I went to expand the item, it read, “The Jews of Bisenz, Austria were massacred on the 14th of Iyar, 5365 (1605).”

That’s it.  No explanation.  No further information.  Just four words, expanding to 12 words (excluding the dates), to say that an entire Jewish community was wiped out.  Doesn’t say how many people.  Doesn’t say by whom.  Doesn’t say why. 

Doesn’t say who these people were, what they did, how they lived.  Just that they were Jews.  And in 1605, in Austria, presumably, that was enough.

Now, I’m not faulting the website.  This could well be the most information anyone has about the Jews of Bisenz.  But, can you imagine anything more tragic?  An entire community wiped out, and no one knows anything beyond the fact that those people came to a tragic end.

Yes, of course, you can imagine something more tragic.  The Holocaust – when the same thing happened to countless Jewish communities all over Europe.

So, now for that little tidbit of information I withheld earlier, the detail from the 1960 capture of Adolph Eichmann.  Most of you probably know it already.  But seeing it juxtaposed with this horrific event in 1605 was what really struck me.

Eichmann was captured by Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service.

Adolph Eichmann had been arrested by American troops at the end of WWII, only to slip through their fingers with the help of false documents and sympathetic groups and people (including priests).  He hid out in Europe for a couple years and finally made use of a well-established escape route through Italy to end up in Argentina.  Soon afterward, he sent for his wife and three children, who used the same escape route.  Then he went on to live a cozy life surrounded by family and old friends (former SS colleagues), while he wrote his memoirs about his involvement in the “final solution.”

But, in the end, Mossad got him.  Through a series of tips and further investigation, they found him.  Through a daring mission, they kidnapped him and smuggled him out of Argentina and to Israel, to stand trial.

Good for them!  Good for Israel!  Good for the Jewish people!

I haven’t been around as long as Israel (that’s all I’ll say about that!), but I have heard and read quite a bit about the decades leading up to the birth of modern Israel.  And, even for Jews who have no real connection to Israel, who have never been there, who have never met an Israeli, they know this one thing: they can finally have Jewish pride.  And that is a gift Israel has given us.

We may not agree with everything Israel does.  In fact, we may vehemently disagree.  But we do know that Israel has the strength and brilliance to achieve what it must – from propelling itself forward in business, medicine and many other fields through innovation, spirit and, yes, sheer nerve… to defending its citizens.  To giving all of us the privilege of holding our heads up high, of believing in our strength and courage as a People.

So, as I closed my internet window, took my last sip (of the first cup) and settled in to start the tasks of the day, I had one more thought.  The same thought we’ve all had at one time or another after reading or hearing about wholesale slaughter of a Jewish community.  We revise it as needed on each occasion.  And we process it with a mixture of pride, and anger, and confusion, and sorrow.

Mine today was:  if only Israel had been around in 1605.

About the Author
Ellen Roteman is Director of Marketing Communications for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh