Kenneth Cohen

The Galut the Youth Do Not Know

We are living in truly amazing times. If one were to look back at history, he would not believe that so much could transpire over a seventy year period. The Jewish people not only survived the horrors of the Holocaust, but we have emerged as a flourishing nation in our precious State of Israel.

For the younger generation, 40 and under, their view of the Galut, the Exile, begins and ends with the Shoah. Tonight we commemorate “Yom Hashoah”, Holocaust Memorial Day, with a day of national mourning for the six million who perished during World War Two. For those living in Israel, it is impossible not to be aware of this tragic piece of history.

The younger generation has not lived through any period where there was religious persecution for the Jew, anywhere in the world. Jews are free to practice their religion without hindrance regardless of where they live. They did not witness the difficulties of Soviet Jewry, Syrian and Iranian Jewry, or the plight of Ethiopian Jewry, that took place shortly before their birth.

The younger generation have come into this world to a situation that probably has not existed for at least two thousand years. The Talmudic term, ” SHIBUD MALCHIOT” refers to our exile and our subservience to foreign rule. It becomes difficult to practice our religion while living under foreign rule, who often forbade us from practicing Judaism. By the grace of G-d, this term is no longer applicable.

Sometimes it is a good idea to witness first hand, the conditions that Jews were forced to live in, during various periods of our history. One can visit Spain, for example, and see the remnants of a once thriving Jewish community only to be expelled in 1492. In Barcelona, there was already an edict as early as 1401, forbidding Jews from trespassing the soil of that city. (Jews get their revenge today with luxurious Passover packages all over Barcelona, with the Spaniards serving them hand and foot!)

Our youth need to be made aware of the resiliency of our people through the most difficult hardships imaginable. Surviving inquisitions, pogroms, and expulsions was no small task. The Jewish people were likened to olive oil as it always rises to the top, so did they. For the most part, it was clear that we were guests in most of these countries, and usually, unwanted guests.

The reason why these lessons must be learned are twofold. The older generation has a more justifiable reason to be on guard in terms of its interaction with the non-Jewish world. We have witnessed reasons to be suspicious and cautious.

I certainly would like to believe that things are changing in this area. The youth often see us as paranoid and intolerant in our dealings with the non-Jewish world. Perhaps if they better understood the source of our suspicions, there would be less tension between the older and younger generation.

The second reason why understanding the Galut is beneficial, is the necessity to be constantly conscious of how fortunate we are. Our ancestors would have had a difficult time believing that a day will come when Jews all over the world can practice Judaism if they want to. That day is every day. The paradox is that while we are free to live as Jews, so many choose not to take advantage of this luxury and gift.

Maimonides was very pragmatic in his approach to Judaism. He believed that the only difference between this world and the world to come was SHIBUD MALCHIOT. So according to him, we may have turned the corner in that we have entered a new phase of our Jewish destiny.

Today, on the eve of Yom Hashoah, it is a good time to take stock of where we are, and from where we came. The lessons of history are invaluable. Sometimes when we are too close to the mountain, we don’t realize how high it is.

If the only lesson to be gained from this article is that we acquire an awareness of how much we are blessed and how much we need to give thanks to G-d for bringing us to this miraculous state, it will  have achieved much. We will realize that we are living in truly amazing times.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at