It is an odd conversation to have, honestly – discussing our demonization, persecution, and a collective animosity that seems to have been continuously directed toward us. The absurdity peaks when conspiracy theories involving Jews, such as controlling the media or orchestrating natural disasters with space lasers, are brought up. Yet, as I write this, I cannot help but laugh. After all, what choice do we have but to laugh?
In times like these, as we see public displays of antisemitism reaching levels not seen since the Holocaust, it is crucial to remember that we, as Jews, have been here before. Our history, which I consider to be one of the richest, most beautiful in the world, is littered with external hatred, with Jews targeted for simply being Jews – persecuted and murdered not once, not twice, but time and time again.
The fall of the First Temple in Jerusalem – known as the Babylonian Exile – is a pivotal moment ingrained in our collective Jewish memory. This period began with the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire under King Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the Egyptian forces led by Pharaoh Necho II. This victory established Nebuchadnezzar as the dominant power in the Levant, setting the stage for the conquest of Judea. Subsequent events, including the siege of Jerusalem in 597 BCE and the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE marked the beginning of a two-thousand-year period of persecution and diaspora.
Between the fall of the First Temple and the fall of the Second Temple (70 CE), the Jews living in Judea continued to face suppression by the hegemonic power – infamously the Seleucid Dynasty. Under Antiochus IV, the Seleucid Dynasty issued decrees forbidding Jewish practices as well as defiling the sacred Jewish Temple with idolatry. We rebelled, known as the Maccabean Revolt, and subsequently created the Hasmonean Dynasty. To this day we celebrate the success of this revolution – Hanukkah – as many Jewish fathers will tell you, “They tried to kill us. They didn’t. Let’s eat”.
We were not so lucky with the Romans, however, who invaded the Hasmonean Dynasty in 63 BCE. Later, in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, leading to the Roman Exile after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE). Jerusalem was destroyed, renamed Aelia Capitolina, and Judea became Syria Palaestina, with the aim to erase any Jewish claim to the land.
Diaspora and Resilience
With the diaspora usually came an intensification of Jew hate or antisemitism by whichever new “host” country we fled to. We were often persecuted, segregated, and isolated from the rest of the community – marked as the “other.” Surprisingly, though, this adversity proved to be a blessing in disguise. It forced the Jews to build a community among themselves – emphasizing the importance of solidarity and unity. Rabbinic Judaism also came about as a result of mass diaspora, the foundation of which was to uphold religious values, prioritizing learning and religious curiosity – resulting in the Jewish people being some of the most literate people throughout history, placing importance on understanding our religious texts. Our literary and oral histories are the cornerstone of our identity, ensuring the transmission of knowledge and values across generations.
However, as we navigated through history, this resilience was tested time and again. Pogroms, atrocities inflicted upon us by the Crusades, Blood Libels, and the Spanish Inquisition, were pivotal moments that attempted to undermine our existence. The culmination of these historic injustices was the Holocaust, the largest genocide the modern world has ever witnessed, claiming a third of the global Jewish population. Astonishingly, the current Jewish population has yet to surpass the numbers of 1939.
Zionism as a Form of Resilience
As Jews, our mentality has been shifted by our survival instincts propagated by our hostile host countries. Zionism was formed in the 19th century, driven by the desire to provide a solution to the recurring waves of antisemitism and to ensure the safety and the continuity of the Jewish people. We no longer wanted to simply “survive,” we wanted to thrive.
Moreover, Zionism serves as a testament to the resilience of Jewish hope and determination. Despite the challenges and obstacles, the Zionist movement gained momentum, leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The State of Israel has thrived against the odds, building a flourishing society, a vibrant cultural landscape, and the strongest economy in the Middle East.
Navigating our Present Challenges
In the wake of recent events, particularly the massacre on October 7 – the most significant massacre on the Jewish community since the Holocaust – coupled with the ominous surge in antisemitism and the stifling of Jewish voices across universities globally, our resilience is once again put to the test. Undeterred, we stand resolute, united in the face of adversity, a testament to the strength that has sustained us for millennia.
Throughout our rich history, we have weathered storms, and in times like these, our commitment to community becomes a beacon of strength. As we confront challenges, the importance of our interconnectedness becomes all the more apparent. We find solace, support, and shared determination within our community – a resilient network that transcends borders and time.
History has shown that community is not just a byproduct of our existence; it is a lifeline, a source of support that sustains us through tumultuous times. Embedded within is a unique manifestation of Jewish resilience.
This resilience is not just an abstract concept, but a lived experience and a determination to persist in the face of hardship.