Tell me, where can I go?
Jews spent close to two millennia away from home. When the Romans finally expelled the Jews from their land, really upset because it took so long to beat their guerilla forces, we scattered to over 50 countries.
Gone was the Second Temple, gone was our government, our army, our social structure, everything. Except us. The Jews. We scattered and as we did, we invented something uniquely Jewish: The Portable Community. We didn’t have a Temple, so we built synagogues. We didn’t have our social structure, so we created Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Family Services, and Jewish social services of all kinds.
We went north to Europe and England. England thrust us out and banned the Jews in 1290. The king at the time was in debt so he got rid of the Jews and took over the loans owed to the Jews. We were not “officially” let back in until the 1800s. We went south to Spain and Portugal. When the Moslem caliphate took over most of the known world after defeating the Romans, they gave a special place for the Jews in their society welcoming the doctors, the philosophers, the merchants among us.
When they were defeated and the Catholic kings took their place, things went downhill in a hurry. Spain was really cool under the caliphate, but along came the Catholics, the Inquisition and we were on our way again, picking up our Portable Community and schlepping it to Northern Africa and to the West. But, everywhere we went, we did as much good as allowed.
In Europe, the unwelcoming Catholic Church saw to it through their puppet politicians that we were banned from most professions, not allowed to own land, pushed into our own shtetls and not allowed in regular schools. But somehow we survived.
By the early 20th century, Turks were the most dominant part of the caliphate and they held sway in Israel, still at that time known as Palestine, a name of derision given to the area by the Romans. Jews were by then returning in dribbles.
The idea of return of course, was put into motion by Theodore Herzl. He saw that Europe with its Catholic religion and its hierarchy would never let the Jews live their own lives, free and independent members of a free society. It was only natural that those without their homeland would seek to return there—especially since they were not wanted by the society in which they lived.
And so we did. Early on, the Jewish National Fund did the natural thing: They began buying the land. Most of it owned by absentee Turkish landowners. When the JNF bought land and got the proper papers of ownership, the Turks did not bother to tell the people living on that land that it had been sold to another party. So, when Jews showed up to settle there, they were not met with milk and honey.
But, here we are, some 110 years later, 67 years after independence, with our own homeland. The first settlers were those with the dream of a Jewish homeland—but for the most part driven there by the problems where they lived. No one wanted them, they suffered indignities and discrimination. They were massacred. All good reasons to head to this new nation that needed people.
So, they came. From Russia, from Poland, from the Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Some decided not to come and perished in the Holocaust. The survivors provided the impetus to make a nation of the land that was once our nation and had no indigenous government since we left.
Then the Arab nations thrust out over 700,000 Jews. Many of them came to the one place they would always be welcome. The Arab nations on the other hand did not welcome their brothers whom they had thrown into “refugee camps.” Till this day.
Now it is happening again. France and Germany have huge Muslim populations, mostly from Arab countries. They fled seeking a place where they could live in peace—of course, as long as there were no Jews there.
But we are there. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a Jew in France. If it were not for the culture of France, there would not have been a Dreyfus Affair, no Herzl and perhaps, no Israel. So perhaps it is no surprise that the nation with the largest Muslim population is no longer a safe place for Jews. It certainly is no surprise that the largest influx of Jews coming to Israel are French.
The world is in turmoil. Muslims in Niger get mad at a French newspaper and burn down Christian churches. The man who was ready to prove that the Brazilian government was complicit in the Jewish Center bombing 20 years ago is killed and it is made to look like a suicide.
Islam is the youngest of the three major faiths in the world. God help us until they mature.