We are perhaps the longest living national liberation movement in history
By DAVID FORMANPublished: APRIL 8, 2009 10:43Advertisement
A 10-year-old boy returned from school and his parents asked him what he had learned. The boy responded: "Nothing important - something about the Jews running away from Egypt a very long time ago."
The parents inquired what the teacher told the class. The boy answered: "Well, the Jews were slaves and wanted to escape. They marched into the desert and ran straight into a raging sea. They built a big bridge over the water and rushed to the other side. When the Egyptians came and climbed onto the bridge, the Jews blew it up, and all the Egyptians fell into the sea and drowned."
The parents were aghast: "Is that what your teacher told you?" "No," said the little boy; "but, if I told you what she told us - you'd never believe it!"
As I travel around the States, there is a depression that seems to have swept over the Jewish community. They are terribly troubled by the relentless criticism of Israel, not only in the media, but also from those they work with and from those they socialize with. Further, they are terribly bothered by the double standards that are applied to Israel, and yet, they are disturbed by some of Israel's actions. When they speak out, the Jewish establishment stifles them. They long for the type of debate that is open and frank as it is in Israel. But for me what I found most disheartening is that they are giving up hope that there can be any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pessimism has permeated the deepest recesses of their being.
In addressing Jewish audiences, I try not to feed this defeatist attitude. This is not to say that I whitewash issues confronting the Jewish state, or try to avoid critiquing the country. But I do urge them not to let negativism overwhelm them. After all, there is no future in despair.
I am not Pollyannaish; that is, I am not a cockeyed optimist. I consider myself to be a harsh realist. But I have not given up hope for a better future for my children and grandchildren. This hope is based on historical precedence. Since our escape from Egyptian bondage can be considered the most definitive event in Jewish history - a victory of the weak over the powerful - it set the standard for other miraculous occurrences throughout the life of the Jewish people.
We are like the proverbial punching bag - knocked down, but never knocked out. Indeed, what is most impressive, and certainly enviable, is that we always get back on our feet to win - not just the round, but the fight.
Think about it - slavery, the Crusades, an Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, Arab armies and terrorists - and here we are. We are perhaps the longest living national liberation movement in history. We have a survival instinct that is truly unbelievable.
DRIVEN INTO BABYLONIAN exile after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, we returned to our land and for four centuries enjoyed independence under the monarchies. When in 168 BCE, Selucid Syria sought to interfere with the autonomy, we rose in revolt under the Maccabees and regained full independence, which lasted over two centuries in the kingdoms of the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties.
Toward the close of this period, in a series of uprisings and wars, we defied Roman imperial might. Ultimately, in 70 CE, Rome subdued Judea and destroyed Jerusalem's Second Temple, whose remnant, the Western Wall, became the focus of pilgrimage. After two generations, revolt flared up again and independence was briefly restored in 132 CE under the leadership of Shimon Bar Kochba. The Roman crushing of the Jewish independence did not, however, dislodge us from what we considered our homeland. Indeed, even after the Romans subdued the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, we managed under foreign rule to benefit from a great measure of autonomy.
All the while, we fashioned the Mishna under foreign domination, and later, while in exile, we completed the Talmud - a monumental work that set the parameters for Jewish moral behavior and ritual practice that has been the mainstay of the Jewish people throughout its long history. Not only did we write the Talmud in dispersion, we found ourselves creating a golden age in Spain. When it came to an abrupt end with the brutal Inquisition, in our next dispersion in Europe we built a rich culture that lasted for 1,000 years despite continued persecution, ghettoization and pogroms, ending with the advent of Hitler.
When World War II ended in 1945, six million of our people had been slaughtered, and in 1948 the modern State of Israel came into being. We went from destruction to reconstruction, from the brink of death to the breath of life in the blink of an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity.
Just think of it; as soon as Israel declared its independence when Great Britain lowered the Union Jack on May 14, 1948, six Arab nations attacked Israel to drive it into the sea. Not only did we survive that war, but in its midst we went from a provisional organizational entity - the Jewish Agency - to a full-fledged government. As we rationed food under great economic stress, we absorbed almost 600,000 Jewish immigrants from such disparate diasporas as the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the ashes of Auschwitz. These waves of immigration have continued though the recent absorption of one million Jews from the former Soviet Union whose gates were closed for so many years, and whose resurgent Jewish identity surfaced after the Six Day War. We emerged from our sealed rooms at the end of the Gulf War to discover that Israel had rescued 14,000 Ethiopian Jews from war-torn Addis Ababa.
In 1973, we were caught in a devastating war with the Egyptians, only to sign a peace agreement with this most implacable historical enemy of the Jewish people six short years later. Even Binyamin Netanyahu managed to shake hands with Yasser Arafat, legitimizing in the eyes of his obdurate constituency that the Palestinian people do indeed exist, and may one day live side-by-side with Israel in their own state. And no one should be shocked if in a year from now a peace accord is initialed with Syria.
With Pessah upon us, we acknowledge the miraculous possibilities where crisis becomes opportunity and despair turns into hope realized. With Jewish historical precedence as my guide, I fully expect that the peace we pray for three times daily will descend upon us; and when it does, we too will say: "You'd never believe it."
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