One of the greatest gifts the Jewish people have given to the world is the concept of hope for a better future. And we make that future possible because of the belief in moral agency: free will. With free will, we choose hope because we choose life. God said, “I give you the blessing and the curse, life and death, choose life for you and your seed.” This teaching, this exhortation, this obligation has kept the Jewish people alive for more than three millennia, despite the innumerable attempts to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth.
The Jewish people keep hope alive.
“Next year in Jerusalem,” has been on our lips since the 15th century. Its use during Passover was first recorded by Isaac Tyrnau. On the run for so many centuries, always choosing life, we knew to look forward with hope. And now, here we are in Jerusalem.
The Jewish people brought about the greatest change in the collective unconscious of humanity since the caveman made fire. Pantheism and paganism had kept us in bondage to the whims of nature with constant sacrifices to the gods, and never allowed us to believe that we had any control over our lives. Time was cyclical rather than linear, and we lived our lives like hamsters in a wheel. There was no sense of history or the idea that each moment has a meaning, and that we are all part of a long journey that has a beginning, and will have a middle and an end: historical time, in other words, not the time of the seasons of nature.
Judaism taught us that we are the subject of our future and our destiny, not the object of a pre-determined fate based on birth. We choose.
We have survived the worst of the Amaleks, evil people who only want death for the Jews, the end of Israel, a people, a nation. From the first Amalek who attacked the weakest of the Jews fleeing Egypt, to Haman. Then thrown out of Israel by the Romans in the second century C.E., the Jewish people dispersed in the wind to the four corners of the world, bringing our values with us. Every place we stopped on the way we had hope; no matter how many tried to snuff us out, we prevailed because we choose life; we choose hope over despair. We will never be victims of circumstance.
We never gave up hope when Mohammed murdered the Jews of Banu Qurayza. Wherever we fled, hate greeted us. But we hoped.
We never gave up when the Church itself separated the Jews from the true believers. In the early third century, the Church prohibited marriage between Jews and Christians, as well as the sharing of meals. They denied Jews the right to hold public office. By the sixth century, Jews were not allowed to employ Christian servants nor were they allowed to be on the streets during Passion Week. The 12th Synod of Toledo declared burning Jewish books acceptable. By the end of the seventh century, Christians were told not to access medical care from Jewish doctors. In the 11th century, Christians were forbidden from living in Jewish homes. In 1078, the Synod of Gerona made it an obligation for Jews to pay taxes to support the Church to the same extent as the Christians. The Third Lateral Council forbad Jews from being witnesses or plaintiffs against Christians.
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that Jews must mark their clothing to publicly designate their religion, a holdover from Muslims times. In 1222, the Council of Oxford prohibited the construction of new synagogues, and in 1267 the Synod of Vienna prohibited Christians from attending Jewish ceremonies. In 1267, the Synod of Breslau made Jewish ghettos compulsory. A Christian converting to Judaism was decreed heresy in by the Synod of Mainz in 1310 and in 1434 the Council of Basel denied Jews the ability to obtain academic degrees.
We never gave up hope.
In 1190, the mobs in England—aroused by the mighty Crusades—massacred the Jews of Norwich and those in Stamford and Bury St. Edmunds, Lincoln and Lynn, and then the Jews of London. There were the pogroms of the 13th century in Frankfurt and Ortenburg, in the state of Bavaria; in Pfortzheim and Speyer; the murders of Jews in Mainz and Krakow on Passover 1283; the burning of young and old in Munich 1285; the murdered of Trerbach and the murdered of Kemeno near Düsseldorf and the murdered of Bonn. In 1288, the first mass burning of Jews took place in France and spread. And, of course, in Spain, there was Tomás de Torquemada, the Spanish Amalek Grand Inquisitor who under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand presided over the death of more than 2,000 Jews burned at the stake in the era of the auto-da-fé in Spain. In 1348, Jews were murdered, accused of causing the Black Plague.
In 1516, the Jews of Venice were pushed into a community, a ghetto. In 1555, Pope Paul IV, ordered the Jews of Rome into a ghetto and decreed that they, too, be marked by wearing a yellow star, to separate them from non-Jews.
There was the massacre of Jews by the Cossacks and the Poles in the 17th century led by the Russian tyrants Chmielnicki and Krivonos.
And then, the Shoah.
Pogroms and ghettos, inquisitions and accusations. Each time we rose like the phoenix from the ashes, with hope, even after the entire world (yes, the entire world, including the Vatican) turned a blind eye to the systemic incineration and obliteration of the Jews of Europe for the crime of being Jewish.
We rose up after Hitler, the most evil of Amalek’s, with hope, not despair, for a brighter future.
And here we are: a Jewish state. We survived the wars of 1948, 1967, 1973, the blowback from the so-called “peace accords” and two intifadas.
And now, by the grace of God and with the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump, there is real hope for real peace in the Middle East. The UAE is normalizing ties with Israel. Kosovo and Serbia, and Malawi, are moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Who would have thought that possible after the Obama years—after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that gave Iran billions of dollars for terrorism, and the Americans’ refusal to veto U.N. Resolution 2334 that designated Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, and the Western Wall of the Temple to be Muslim?
This obligation, this ethic to choose life, to be hopeful, was brought to the United States and embedded in its Constitution.
John Adams, a member of the Declaration of Independence committee and second president of the United States (1797–1801), wrote:
“I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty, sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be a great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.”
Hope is so pivotal to the Jewish people that the national anthem for Israel is “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”).
As long as within our hearts
The Jewish soul sings,
As long as forward to the East
To Zion, looks the eye —
Our hope is not yet lost,
It is two thousand years old,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Diane Bederman is the author of “Back to the Ethic, Reclaiming Western Values,” published by Mantua Books. She blogs at: DianeBederman.com.