Saturday, December 5, 2009

surrounded and disliked

I have been listening to Prof. David Ruderman on Jewish intellectual history 1600 to 2000.  Whether it is the story of the Jews or the tale of immigrants to America, the difficulties of being someplace where you don't understand what is going on, where everything is strange are always gripping.  This is the year 5770 in the Jewish calendar so they have quite a long history.  Whether it was military defeat and conquest or the arrival of a man that some took to be the long-awaited messiah the Jews had envisioned and desired, there have been many twists and turns that resulted in the Jews being isolated, abandoned, surrounded and disliked.  They have been thinkers and strivers and have tested just about every conceivable strategy to improve their lot while trying to remain true to their heritage.

From the 1600's to the middle of the 1800's, they made progress, at least in Europe at integrating themselves into the larger society and being accepted.  By the middle and late 1800's though, they took stock of their situation.  Pogroms (violent outbursts of both popular and governmental physical attacks on them and their property) coupled with fear, hatred and rumors about their lives and habits brought about attempts in new directions to find a way to live.  This was nearly a century before the Nazis focused public and governmental hatred and persecution on them.  Thinkers and leaders among them suggested two new strategies.  First, work for the restructuring of society so that the typical organization would be altered to give them a chance to fit in.  This was a time when it was very questionable whether Jews should be allowed to attend a university or professional school.  Second, find a place, a land, where they could have a country of their own.  That would include an army, a legislature and a chance to use Hebrew as the national language.

The book by Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policeman's Union, tells the fictional story of the giving of the land of Alaska to the Zionists who were searching for a land to live in.  Of course, what actually happened was that the British and other European powers worked to arrange the return of the land of ancient Israel to the Zionists, where they are struggling to make a go of nationhood today.  It hasn't been easy for the Israelis or for the Palestinians who have lived there for centuries.  Tune in a thousand years from now to see how it all turns out.

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