Apr 27, 2012
ZEITGEIST WITH HOWARD BARBANEL
Sixty seven years ago the prospects for the Jewish people looked pretty bleak. With another few weeks left until the end of World War II in Europe, a full third of the Jewish people worldwide had been exterminated, regarded as vermin, bedbugs and roaches by the Nazi German regime who felt a greater imperative to keep the killing fields and crematoria running at full tilt right up until the end than they did defending their own country.
The emaciated survivors of Hitler’s ovens found it hard to imagine a loaf of bread, let alone any kind of glorious future. The major Jewish population center in the United States was primarily populated by lower middle class immigrants and their first generation American-born offspring who were on the whole trying desperately to eek out a living while packed into tight quarters in endless apartments in The Bronx and Brooklyn while fending off a constant low-level buzz of anti-Semitism and discrimination in employment and education.
There were about four hundred thousand Jews in what was then called British-mandated Palestine who created the infrastructure for a nation but who were stifled and suppressed at every turn by a British government hell-bent on appeasing the Arabs in the name of access to oil. Jews living in the Arab world, more than a million of them, were prosperous but nervous as befits small minorities in unenlightened societies. Soviet Jews were locked behind an iron curtain.
In what can only be described as the sun bursting through pitch-black storm clouds, a scant three years after Hitler met the charred end he inflicted on so many, the world acknowledged the justice of the Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel in the form of a United Nations vote and the State of Israel was born 64 years ago this week on the Hebrew calendar. Born out of blood and fire, having to fend-off five-plus Arab armies at its moment of inception – tiny Israel, with its back to the sea, was able to prevail over those who sought to complete Himmler’s work.
Swinging open its doors, millions of Jews seeking peace, freedom and a normal life flooded the newborn state. Initially living in tents and shacks, with the help of other Jews worldwide, they forged what has today become one of the world’s largest economies and one of the globe’s most effective military machines. Skyscrapers sprout from what were sand dunes. Farms produce agricultural abundance where there were but malaria-ridden swamps. Forests adorn formerly barren hills. Technological innovations and breakthroughs bud and bloom on a seemingly daily basis in areas as important as computers, biotech and software.
In the 64 years since the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, her people have had to fight more than a half dozen wars for its very existence. Even now there are highly-financed national efforts, most notably on the part of Iran, to wage total war to annihilate Israel. Unfortunately, the re-creation of a Jewish state did not eliminate state-sponsored violent anti-Semitism. What the State of Israel did eliminate for its citizens and for Jews around the world was pervasive fear and hopelessness. When Theodor Herzl founded modern political Zionism at the end of the 19th Century, he saw a Jewish world beset by grinding poverty, persecution and a dearth of opportunity for the Jewish masses. Since the day Israel gained independence in 1948, the situation for nearly all the world’s Jews has changed dramatically.
Prosperity for American Jews can be directly traced from that date. What were a hardscrabble lot of working class people morphed into probably the most affluent, highly-educated and ubiquitous ethnic group in the entire U.S. Jews from Arab countries, though expelled from their homes with just the shirts on the backs built the modern State of Israel brick by brick in a place where they have to kowtow to no Muslim overlords. Soviet Jews broke free from the iron curtain and are now enjoying opportunity and prosperity across the globe. From more than 100 countries across the globe, persecuted Jews have been repatriated and Jews living outside Israel just about everywhere have it pretty good.
Israel straightened and keeps straight the collective Jewish backbone, enabling Jews to stand tall, to defend their interests and protect the lives of Jewish women, children and old people. It enables Jewish civil rights everywhere and is living push-back to manic and maniac violent anti-Semites whether hiding under rocks or in broad daylight. Jewish children everywhere have a future and no one is turning them into bars of soap.
On my first visit to Israel as a teenager in 1973, early in my trip I saw a squadron of Israeli fighter jets fly low over our group and I saw the blue Star of David on the wings and tails. At that moment, I felt I saw the metaphorical finger of God manifesting itself before my eyes – as the people who were nearly killed to extinction were defending their home from the clouds. In my countless trips since, invariably one small miracle after another reveals itself, whether they be grape vines growing out of the Negev sands or seeing Albino former Soviet Jewish soldiers patrolling Jewish holy sites with former Ethiopian Jewish comrades or beholding the enduring sanctity of the Western Wall, it never ceases to amaze.
Israel Independence Day was this week and the Jewish people through God’s good grace, haven’t had it this good in two thousand years. We live in privileged times and we are a most privileged generation.
Filed Under: Howard Barbanel
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