Israel Isn’t Going Anywhere
For the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the majority of the world’s Jews live in Zion.
Whether forced from Arab lands, fleeing persecution in Russia and eastern Europe before World War Two, or survivors of the Holocaust, these people and their children and grandchildren aren’t going anywhere. They are home. They have nowhere to go. Christian Europe and Muslim lands made it abundantly clear that they would suffer the presence of the Jews from time to time, but they would not hesitate to remind them, through expulsions, forced conversions, and pogroms, that they were guests in other people’s lands, and only sometimes welcome ones.
So they went to Israel, where there has been a continuous Jewish presence for 2,000 years, since the conquest by the Romans in 70 CE.
The Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote that the graffiti in Europe before World War Two said “Jews get out. Go to Palestine.” The graffiti in Palestine said “Jews go back to Europe.” Oz concluded that if you can’t be here and you can’t be there, the clear message is, “Don’t Be.”
Well, the Jews are a stubborn lot and they refused to disappear, much to the consternation of many. Their mere existence is an affront. But this time, they aren’t going anywhere because they have nowhere to go.
But it’s more than having no place to go. There is a positive and uplifting side to the return. Another Israeli novelist, David Grossman, explains the meaning of Israel as “home.” It is a lengthy quotation but merits a close reading:
I am here because for me, this is the place in which my life has meaning, the place in which I want to connect. It’s the place that’s relevant to me in a way that no other place is.
Here, even things that drive me crazy are relevant to me, they mean something to me. And I want my children’s future to be here, and that of my grandchildren.
I think the definition of a Jewish person or Jewish collective in the past has been that of someone or some group that never felt at home in the world. Even in the friendliest of places, there was always a shadow, a sense of doubt hovering just above … [t]he possibility of it coming apart at the seams, the possibility of expulsion, the possibility, God forbid, of genocide. Israel was meant to be our home. Finally. Our home.
This new-found sense of home gives meaning to life and hope for the future, and is the reason that Israelis rank near the top of the global “happiness index.”
Their neighbors don’t like the Israelis, and much of the world condemns them, but the Israelis will do everything possible and impossible to stay exactly where they are. The 2,000 year failed experiment of living outside the land of Israel has taught them that Israel is where they belong. They have come full circle, back to the source and the beginning, a new genesis — an old people renewed. No wonder the national anthem is Htikvah: Hope.
Dr. Paul Socken is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and founder of the Jewish Studies program at the University of Waterloo