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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Theodore Herzl convened a series of World Zionist Congresses. Each convention contemplated the plight of the Jewish people and the need for a Jewish homeland. But it was the Kishinev pogrom of April 1903 that sharply brought into focus the burning issue of establishing a refuge for the Jewish people from the ravages of pogroms and anti-Semitism.
At the Sixth Zionist Congress, held in that fateful year of 1903, Herzl brought to the attention of the assembly an offer by the British government to grant the Jewish people a home in Uganda. He presented it to the floor and was greeted with boos and jeers. Though Herzl knew that the place for the Jews was Eretz Yisrael, he believed the Uganda idea had merit as a stop-gap measure. But it was clear that most Zionists were adamantly opposed. Herzl closed his speech to the Sixth Zionist National congress by quoting from Tehillim (Psalms), “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.”
Herzl was dead within a year, but his prophetic vision established him as the Father of modern Zionism. In his speech to the First Zionist Congress, in 1897, he’d predicted the establishment of a Jewish state in at most 50 years. He was off by just one year. One is left to wonder whether the Uganda idea, had it come to fruition, would have saved European Jewry during the Second World War.
One thing is certain. The United Nations’ affirmative vote for a Jewish state in 1947, the creation of Israel in 1948, and the sympathy of much of the international community during those momentous months came at a terrible price in Jewish suffering. Six million Jews had been ruthlessly murdered by the Germans, and six thousand more would be killed in Israel’s War of Independence. Many of the great sages of the time declared the birth of the first Jewish commonwealth in 2,000 years a historically and religiously significant event – albeit one largely brought about by non-religious people – even the beginning of the redemption of the Jews and the time of the coming of the Messiah.
I just returned from a two-week visit to Israel on which I lead a tour of the eighth-grade class of the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of West Hartford, Connecticut. This was the twentieth such tour I’ve led, introducing children to the beauty and splendor of Eretz Yisrael.
One of the most moving segments of the trip was our time at the new Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Visiting Yad Vashem with students had always been meaningful, but I hadn’t been there since the new construction was completed.
When you enter the museum, perhaps the most poignant scene is the showing of a continuous movie depicting the lives of the Jews in pre-war Europe. The individuals portrayed constituted essentially the same makeup of the Jewish people today. They looked normal. They represented a wide spectrum of Jewish observance, each making up the whole of the diversity of our people. These are the people whom Hitler strove to portray as subhuman, deserving of death in the most barbaric ways imaginable.
The most powerful message I derived from my visit, however, was the reality that without the State of Israel today we would once again have no homeland to turn to, no place of ultimate refuge. Israel is a haven for the Jewish people. The government, corrupt as it is, oversees a vibrant state that is the center of Torah learning in the world today and that boasts the largest concentration of Jews – anywhere. If not for that secular government we all love to criticize, we would not have these centers of learning in Israel nor would we have a haven of refuge should another mass persecution of Jews take place.
About the Author: Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at email@example.com or 914-368-5149.
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Nothing in the NEW Paris Proposal differs much from what was offered by Olmert and rejected by Abbas
No longer will delegitimization efforts go unchallenged. That’s a silence we will continue to break.
Increasingly, Sweden is becoming a country where anti-Semitism & supporting terrorism is acceptable.
The problem with US treatment of Israel did not start with Obama but with birth of Jewish State
The pathetic failure of the Marianne to reach Gaza is the best thing that has happened to Israel since Hamas mis-fired a rocket on its own civilians.
Wonder why Israel has the world’s most insane rules of engagement imposed on its military? Read on..
Think political Islam’s a problem now just wait until an Islamist nuclear umbrella covers the region
Fiorina’s wrong about Islam which embraces our death&destruction confusing pc theories for hard fact
Bangladesh PM Hasina is fighting terror not only for her nation but for the entire civilized world.
No necessity to redefine marriage, just address equal rights for couples in non-nuclear families
PM Netanyahu has pledged the nation won’t rest until the hero Eli Cohen is returned home to Israel
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Dating apps have really changed the way many young Jews approach dating.
The families of those slain even publicly forgave the murderer. Charleston was serene and at peace.
We tend to justify and idealize this division with pride attributing these tendencies as demonstrating a higher level of kedushah.
A leader that has lost faith in his people cannot lead his people and conquer the land of Israel.
There was no question that when Mrs. Cohen entered the room to meet the teacher she was hostile from the outset.
He always impressed me with his brilliance and erudition. But it was his warm remarks and his sincere concern that made me want to please him.
In the midst of all this name calling by these so called leaders stands a man who is steadfast in his beliefs and is prepared to deal with any outside pressure to get his point across.
“Well, you are also part of this class! If someone drills a hole in the boat, the boat will ultimately sink, and even the innocent ones will perish as well. The whole class must be punished!”
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