When I assess all the positive things that Jews have contributed to humanity, and contrast that with the treatment my people have undergone as recompense, I am at a loss.
Jews conceived a supreme being responsible for the creation of the material world. They also saw that this being insisted on moral laws to be obeyed by the humans He brought into being to be masters of the planet He had peopled. The Jews believed that this unitary deity, replacing the multiplicity of single-purpose idols and demigods, would reward the righteous who obeyed His laws with a future beyond the grave that all humans face. They also hoped these laws would make it easier for humans to live together in peace. The ideas were so powerful that, even though they were transmuted and altered through Christianity and Islam, they ultimately captured the hearts of millions and, today, billions.
In its early days, as they struggled for wider support, the Jewish followers of Jesus, and some of those they recruited, altered some of the tenets of Jewish observance and deified their leader. Further, the church established in Jesus’s name adopted the New Testament, which they established to replace the Hebrew Bible, containing the assertion, not borne out by available historical record, that his fellow Jews killed Jesus.
With the ultimate success of the new church, Jews have faced millennia of murder, forced conversion, exclusion and persecution from Christianity’s adherents. And Islam followed suit in condemnation because Jews would not accept their version of the story Jews had been telling.
Out of this crucible of trial by fire and sword, hate and exclusion, remnants have survived over the centuries, since most Jews left their native lands. Treated as strangers everywhere they ended up, they maintained a culture that has bred individuals of extraordinary talent, wisdom and ingenuity out of all proportion to their numbers.
When Jews were at last liberated from the restrictions placed upon them by various rulers of various lands, the contribution that Jews began to make to the welfare of their communities exploded across the whole range of human activity. Yet, hatred of Jews, official and random, remains a fact of life nearly everywhere.
As a youngster, I grew up in Canada, in a time when there were places in which Jews could not buy property. There were jobs from which Jews were excluded. There were courses in university where enrolment of Jews was limited.
One of my childhood acquaintances, the product of a Jamaican father and a German mother, lived in similar circumstance to ourselves, in an area on the edge of being a slum. We often spoke of our aspirations for future advancement. He had a talent for drawing. If I had a talent for anything, it was not obvious.
Almost a lifetime later, we reengaged and had a number of debates. When I mentioned some of the contributions Jews had made to humanity, making particular reference to recent discoveries made by scientists in Israel, they appeared of little significance to him. He cautioned me about being too tribal, indicating that national origins were irrelevant. Then, he stated that the creation of Israel had been a world blunder.
The contributions being made in Israel dispute that point. That it exists at all is a miracle. The current rallying of nations around the world to support Ukraine was not in evidence when Israel confronted the armies of seven invading Arab countries, in addition to internal terrorism, at the time of its birth in 1948.
An arid country, Israel converts seawater to freshwater with solar power. That solar power fills much of its energy needs, as it lacks natural resources. It is a pioneer in agricultural techniques that it markets to the world to conserve water.
It commits one of the highest percentages of the national budget to research and development, funding medical and technological advances that are being used around the world. Its medical advances have enabled people who couldn’t, for whatever reason, to walk, to hear or to see. It used its entire population to identify the best methods for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
No emergency anywhere in the world lacks an Israeli team if their aid is welcome, and they are often the first on the scene to save lives. It has one of the highest patent applications per million people in the world.
And Israel is a haven for any Jew in distress around the world. Its initial Jewish population was 800,000. After almost 75 years, it is more than six million, in a country of more than nine million, most of the balance being Arabs with citizenship.
Yet, some, even many, consider all this a blunder! And, as Jews, we face challenges to our safety and survival wherever we are located.
The outsize contributions made by Jews in every field, out of all proportion to their numbers, is a matter of public record. The explanation for it is puzzling. My conclusion centres on the nature of the Jewish community in the diaspora and in the Israeli national consciousness.
Communities in the diaspora inherited their format, as dictated by religious authorities in ancient Israel. Each community was responsible for meeting the needs all its inhabitants, children’s education and care for the poor included. This was reenforced in the diaspora by hostile surroundings, with internal literacy and educational priorities being in stark contrast to what existed in environments around them.
Most importantly, I believe, was a sense of common destiny, each Jew knowingly accepting responsibility for the welfare of one’s fellows. I believe that, when Jews entered the wider world, this individual consciousness was transmuted into a drive to be of service to the public as a whole. And these feelings dictated the choice of careers and the values of Jewish entrepreneurs. The community priority on education did the rest in the pursuit of excellence.
The wrongs of the past, it seems, will not be righted. We must earn our satisfactions from our accomplishments.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.