The Eternal People
Surviving crusades, blood libels, pogroms, persecutions, mass murders, and gassings, the history of the Jewish people breaks all norms.
Adolph Hitler began his rise to power in the late 1920’s, speaking in the beer halls of Munich. The story is told that at one such meeting, amidst the haze of cigarette smoke and the smell of Bavarian beer, Hitler’s voice could be heard ranting on about Germany’s problems.
“The misfortune of Germany is the Jews. The Jews are the reason we lost the war. The Jews are the reason we suffer unemployment. The Jews are the reason we have bread lines. The salvation of the German Fatherland rests on ridding ourselves of the Jews!”
When he finally finished this hour-long tirade, the audience leapt to its feet in adoring applause.
Towards the back of the room, an old Jewish man also stood up and clapped. Long after the rest of the audience finished applauding and began shuffling out; this old man continued his ovation.
Hitler made his way over to the elderly man and screamed, “Don’t you believe that I am serious when I say, ‘the Jews are Germany’s misfortune’?! Don’t you believe me when I say that I intend to rid Germany of the Jews?!”
The old man, undaunted, turned toward Hitler and said, “Oh, I assume that you meant every word of what you said. You must remember, though, we are an old people and you aren’t the first to hate us. Many years ago there was an evil King Pharaoh who also hated us. He enslaved our people for over 200 years. God saved us from him, and in honor of that event we have the beautiful holiday of Passover. Many centuries later there was a wicked man named Haman. He also hated us, and tried to kill us out. God saved us from him and in honor of that experience we now have the festival of Purim. What a wonderful feast, singing and dancing. Then came the Greeks who tried to oppress us and we now have Chanukah, marking that occasion. But you, Hitler, you hate us more than any of our enemies. When God saves us from you, what a rejoicing there will be!”
Despite the all out effort of the Nazi regime to systematically annihilate us, we are still here to talk about it. While the rest of the world turned their back in silence, one of the most powerful nations on the face of the Earth did everything in its power to destroy us. That bestial country unleashed all of its fury and hatred in one final solution to the Jewish problem. And they couldn’t do it. We are still here today, discussing our heritage, contemplating its meaning, while our enemies are relics of the past.
Isn’t it amazing that century after century, after so many repeated attempts to wipe out the Jewish people, that we are still here, and our enemies aren’t?
We have lived through Crusades, Spanish inquisitions, blood libels, pogroms, persecutions, mass murders, and gassings. And yet we are still here.
We are an ancient people. We have lived through 2,000 years of exile, being thrown out of every land in which we lived. Sent from exile to exile, barely accepted in some haven, then to be further oppressed and finally thrown out again. We have been subjected to every anguish and torment known to mankind. Starting with the destruction of the First Temple over 2,000 years ago, we have suffered through more ordeals than any other people on the face of the planet.
We have lived through Crusades, Spanish inquisitions, blood libels, pogroms, persecutions, mass murders, and gassings. And yet we are still here, vibrant and as strong as ever.
Of all the ancient peoples, the only one who suffered exiles, dispersions and still remains intact is the Jewish Nation.
In Leschinsky’s work, The Jewish Dispersion, he writes:
For 1,900 years from the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) to the establishment of the modern State of Israel (1948), the Jewish people have wandered literally around the world. This wandering was usually precipitated by intolerable spiritual and/or physical persecution. The scope of the Jews' nineteen hundred year exile is reflected in the lands from which they were, en masse, expelled. For example, in the third century (CE) they were expelled from Carthage (North Africa), in the fifth century from Alexandria (Egypt), in the sixth from provinces in France, and in the seventh from the Visigothic Empire. In the ninth century they were expelled from Italy, in the eleventh from Mayence (Germany), in the twelfth from France, the thirteenth from England, the fourteenth from France, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, and in the fifteenth from Austria, Spain, Lithuania, Portugal, and Germany. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Jewish populations were expelled from Bohemia, Austria, Papal States, the Netherlands, the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Oran (North Africa). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were expelled from Russia, Warsaw (Poland), and Galatz (Romania). In the twentieth century all Jews living in Nazi controlled lands were relocated, and from 1948 to 1952 hundreds of thousands of Jews managed to escape from the lands of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.”
Historians have also reached the conclusion that something is about this people. Leo Tolstoy wrote in 1891, an article entitled “What is the Jew?”
“What is the Jew? This is not as strange a question as it would first appear to be. Come let us contemplate what kind of creature is this whom all the rulers and all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and flourish. What is this Jew, whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!
The Jew is the symbol of eternity. He is the one whom they were never able to destroy, neither bloodbath nor afflictions, neither the fire nor the sword succeeded in annihilating him. He is the one who for so long has guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.
The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.
These are not the words of the Talmud quoted here. These words were written by a man who viewed world history with the one criterion necessary to reach such an observation: an open mind. He studied the course of human events and in an unbiased posture reached the understanding that this people has a destiny, an eternal role in the ages.
Here is another example of a student of world history reaching a similar conclusion. It was written by a French author, Jon DeBileda, during the latter part of the 19th Century.
In essence the Jewish people chuckle at all forms of anti-Semitism. Think all you want and you will not be able to find one form of brutality or strategy that has not been used in warfare against the Jewish people. I cannot be defeated, says Judaism. All that you attempt to do to me today has been attempted 3,200 years prior in Egypt. Then tried the Babylonians and Persians... Afterwards tried the Romans and then others and others....
There is no question that the Jews will outlive us all. This is an eternal people....
RETURN TO THE LAND
Yet everything that we could possibly say about world history pales in comparison to the miracle that we have witnessed with our own eyes in the last 50 years: the Jewish people in their country, the land of Israel. After an exile lasting almost 2,000 years, not only has this nation survived as a people, it has reclaimed a land that it left thousands of years ago -- a land that was barren and desolate for centuries. Is there any thinking person who would call this short of miraculous? Is there any other nation in the course of history that was uprooted from its homeland and successfully made it back? And we aren’t speaking about returning after 10 years or 20 years of exile, rather after almost 2,000 years of exile.
Even more wondrous is that the Jews are still in that land some 50 years later. As soon as the State of Israel was declared, the Arab nations declared war. When the word spread that the Arab nations were en masse attacking the fledgling State of Israel, common wisdom said: There will be another Holocaust. There was no way that such a small nation, so ill prepared for war, could possibly hold out against the organized effort of the entire Arab world.
Paul Johnson in a, “A History of the Jews”, writes:
“On May 14, 1948 the state of Israel was declared. The next day, five mechanized armies attacked, each one, alone, sizably larger than the small band of Holocaust survivors defending Israel.
The entire armament of the Israeli forces consisted of:
2,700 steno guns
1,000 machine guns
How could such a small, untrained band of men possibly survive against the organized might of the Arab Nations, attacking them on every side?
This is only part of the picture. Before the declaration of a state, the British ruled Palestine, and they had very strict rules against Jews owning guns. The fledgling Jewish guerrilla forces had to practice in great secrecy with minimal armaments and inadequate drills; without any of the normal machinations of an army. Much of the military training consisted of small groups gathering together in secret cells. This continued until May 14, 1948. On May 15th, five nations attacked. You can’t create an army, a navy and an air force in one day.
The entire Israeli Air force consisted of a few Piper Cubs that were originally loaded with grenades, and later fitted for machine guns. Each of the Arab nations alone had enough manpower and weapons to single-handedly defeat Israel. Can a nation so out-manned, so outgunned, fighting not on one or two fronts but on every side, possibly survive more than a few days? In 1948 less then 5% of Jews alive at the time lived in Israel. A total of 650,000 Jews were surrounded and attacked by nations populated by 50 million Arabs.
Each attacking nation threw its full weight into the fray, coordinating their armies, mobilizing their tanks and heavy artillery, and sending their air force in for support, all galvanized for this one final massacre. According to any intelligent assessment of the situation, there was to be a massacre. How could such a small, untrained band of men, with almost no previous military experience, possibly survive against the organized might of the Arab Nations, attacking them on every side?
After one month, a cease-fire was called. With all of their gathered might, they couldn’t vanquish this little sliver of a country.
You have to be amazed by the sheer unlikeliness of these events.
Azzah Pasha, then the Secretary General of the Arab League, proclaimed over the airwaves: “This will be a war of extermination, and a momentous massacre”.
This is what should have occurred according to all of the natural ways of the world.
Between 1948 and 1973, a span of 25 years, the Arab nations declared war four times on this puny, understaffed country; and not one victory. Try and try again, they just couldn’t “crush the darn thing”!
But none of this compares to the obvious and clear miracles that happened during the Six Day War in 1967.
By this time there were 3 million citizens of Israel, surrounded by 100 million Arabs. It was so obvious that this was going to be bloodbath for the young state of Israel, that at the beginning of the war many of the Jewish day schools in the US held campaigns to gather bed sheets to be airlifted to Israel. Israel couldn’t possibly have the medical supplies to care for all of the soldiers who would be wounded in the anticipated fighting, and the American Jewish community did what it could to help.
Not only did Israel win the war with remarkably few casualties, they conquered huge tracts of the Sinai, took over the Golan Heights, and reclaimed Jerusalem. Within the first six hours, almost the entire Egyptian air force was wiped out. After the war, the Israeli intelligence uncovered something amazing. The Egyptians, being aware that Israel could bomb their airfields, had prepared decoy hangers. From the air, Israeli planes saw two sets of hangers: one that housed the planes, and the decoys. After the war, they examined the hangers on the Egyptian air base; almost every hanger bombed was a direct hit. The empty decoy hangers were almost untouched; only the ones containing the planes were destroyed.
An article written in Time magazine after the war told the following story: The West Point Senior cadets were given a project. They were to devise the most effective strategy for taking the Golan Heights. They were given maps of the Syrian strong points and the Israeli forces assigned to the battle. Because it was a senior thesis, they were given access to the greatest military minds at West Point, and the most sophisticated computers available at the time. They had three months to devise their strategy. Within a short time they returned to their professor saying it was not possible. Based on the sheer heights of the cliffs and the strength of the Syrian fortifications, it was not possible to plan the taking of the Golan Heights, because it just couldn’t be done.
Yet it was done.
Can a thinking person possibly say that there isn’t something out of the ordinary going on here, something miraculous?
The following incident that happened to a Jewish chaplain on a US Army base may help bring this all into focus.
The story begins on an army base in Berlin in 1974. Rabbi Wade, then a chaplain, befriended a Jewish American officer named Stuart. Stuart did not strike him as being a religious man and so Rabbi Wade was surprised one day to see Stuart wearing a yarmulke (skullcap). Upon questioning Stuart's reasons for donning this unconventional attire, Stuart told Rabbi Wade the fascinating story behind it.
As part of their first year studies, cadets were enrolled in a course called "History of Military Tactics & Field Strategies," taught by a 3-star Lieutenant General with a Ph.D. in Military Strategy. The course surveyed the major battles in history, including those of the Ptolemies, the Romans, the Middle Ages, and down to the latest battles of our modern era.
During the final two weeks of the course, which were devoted to reviewing the material, Cadet Stuart raised his hand with a question.
"Why," asked Stuart, "did we not survey any of the battles fought by the Jews, either of ancient times (i.e. Roman-Jewish Wars) or of modern times (i.e. Arab-Israeli Wars)?"
The normally friendly general snapped back with an order for Stuart to see him in his office after class. Upon entering the general's office, Stuart was ordered to close and lock the door. "The general then told me that he would only answer my question in the privacy of his office," said Stuart.
"Do not think that the staff here at West Point has left the Jewish wars unnoticed," began the general. “We have examined and analyzed them and we do not teach them at West Point," he continued. "According to military strategy and textbook tactics, the Jews should have lost those wars. You should have been swept into the dustbin of history long ago. But you were not. You won those wars against all odds and against all military strategies and logic.
"This past year," the general continued, "we hired a new junior instructor. During a private staff meeting and discussion, the Arab-Israeli wars came under discussion. We puzzled at how you won those wars. Suddenly, this junior instructor chirped up and jokingly said, 'Honorable gentlemen, it seems to be quite obvious how they are winning their wars: God is winning their wars!’ Nobody laughed. The reason is, soldier, that it seems to be an unwritten rule around here at West Point that God is winning your wars. But God does not fit into military textbooks! You are dismissed," concluded the general.
"I left the general's office and I had never been so humiliated in my life. I felt about two inches tall. 'Wouldn't you know it,' I said to myself, 'that I would have to come to West Point and find out how great my God is from a non practicing Presbyterian 3-star general.'"
"I went back to my dorm room," continued Stuart, "and dug down in my sock drawer to find that 'flap of cloth' that I threw on my head once a year. I said to myself: This thing is going on my head because I found out in essence who I was and where I came from."
The following was an excerpt from "The Torah Lifestyle: Finding Meaning and Purpose in a World Transformed".