A Place Called Home
Despite wars and persecution, there still exists an inextinguishable hope within world Jewry. And for good reason.
The suggestion provoked a small eruption. I made it some years ago at a family gathering of my grown children and their families. All I did was casually mention that their mother and I were considering the possibility of downsizing and relocating to another part of the country, probably Florida.
The reaction was swift and unanimous.
“Mom, Dad, this is home. Why after all these years would you think of leaving?”
“Yes. But you’ve all left. We’re alone in this place. Why should it make any difference where we live?”
After some thought, I realized I should have expected their dismay. Central Virginia was their place of beginnings. All their attachments were seeded in this area, and it will always be “home” in their hearts.
A Man, a Place, and a People
For the Jewish people, the heart and home story began some 4,000 years ago with a man, Abraham, who stood before his God and received word of a divine land-grant—a place God was giving him that he and his descendants would call home forever (Gen. 13:14–15; 15:18; 17:7–8).
Here we are today, millennia later, witnessing history’s greatest manifestation of God’s enduring truth: the continued presence of His Chosen People, finally returning from the Diaspora to the land reserved for them by God.
Dark Days of the Diaspora
Sadly, two millennia of extreme distress punctuated by the struggle to survive stained the prelude to the return and ultimate fulfillment of the promise. A caricature of those years has been etched in images of the “wandering Jew,” usually drawn in derision by those who are hostile toward the displaced descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
However, a reality is attached to this depiction. Jewish people were indeed forced to wander across the landscape of the nations. History chronicles the pogroms, expulsions, ghettos, and persecutions they endured, all harboring a measure of genocide. Yet, as we look at these deplorable acts against a people, we must always remember life in the Diaspora was exceedingly personal.
The well-known story of Anne Frank and her family during the Nazi reign of terror was the story of countless other Jewish families in Europe who lived in moment-by-moment fear, waiting to hear footsteps or pounding on the door as assailants came to execute the ultimate betrayal.
For the Frank family, the betrayal came after two years of hiding in a secret annex in Amsterdam, where they lived in cramped quarters with limited access to the outside world. Eventually, the Nazis found them and deported them to a death camp, where all but Anne’s father perished.
Playwright Joseph Stein, who wrote the book for the musical Fiddler on the Roof, depicted the uncertainty of Jewish life in the Diaspora in a scene dramatizing the eviction of Russian Jews from their village on orders of anti-Semitic Czar Nicholas II.
Bedraggled, departing villagers slog down a muddy, rut-filled road, their possessions piled onto beat-up wooden carts also carrying the aged, infirm, and children wrapped in blankets to stave off the cold. Fear and anguish fill their faces. They are bound for who-knows-where to piece together the remnant of their lives. The scene conveyed an emotional truth about the Diaspora. Unfortunately, the same hate-filled, anti-Semitic aggression waxes hot at this hour.
A Unity of Hope
If you’re asking yourself, Where have Jews lived over the past 2,000 years? you are asking the wrong question. Where have they not lived? is more to the point. Their sojourn has been broad and difficult. One authority says that from AD 250 to 1948, Jewish people have been expelled from at least 109 countries.1 Add to this trauma the endless suffering, affliction, and misery heaped on them, and we are left with an enigma:
Why are they still here? How have they not been expunged from the earth?
Miraculously, they are still here. And they are not a tattered, sulking few on the fringes of humanity. No! The wonder of the Jewish people is imponderable and singularly undeniable. Mark Twain essentially came to the same conclusion in his essay “Concerning the Jews,” published in Harper’s Magazine in 1899:
If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent [Ed. Note: The correct percentage is one tenth of one percent] of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
In the prologue to his best-selling book, A History of the Jews, Christian historian Paul Johnson wrote, “Jewish history covers not only vast tracts of time [4,000 years] but huge areas. The Jews have penetrated many societies and left their mark on all of them. Writing a history of the Jews is almost like writing a history of the world.”2
Any attempt to discover how a people could endure as a nation after being scattered to the four winds for thousands of years must begin by locating a unifying factor. Perhaps the four words uttered at Passover tables around the world in every language imaginable say it best: Next year in Jerusalem!
Therein lies the inextinguishable, unifying hope of world Jewry: One day, the wandering will be over; and we will go home.
Theodor Herzl’s Vision
Although ridiculed by much of Europe’s intelligentsia in the 1800s, Austrian-born Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl maintained his position. He saw anti-Semitism growing and knew it imperiled the future of European Jewry. He believed the answer was not assimilation but, rather, the establishment of a Jewish state. Ultimately, the location would be in the ancient homeland—Israel.
Two devastating wars, the annihilation of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, and a residue of memories too appalling to erase would prove him right. Thirty-nine years after his death, Herzl’s own daughter Margarethe died in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt in 1943.
Thankfully, five years later, there was Israel. It was a place for survivors to bind their wounds and embrace the future. Humanly speaking, Israel exists because of Theodor Herzl and the industrious band of people who shared his passion and commitment. Divinely speaking, Israel exists because we have a faithful God who keeps His promises.
The Affront of Denial
Given society’s current zeal to destroy racism, it would seem inconceivable that anti-Semitism would continue. Yet it not only continues, but it is growing with a vengeance.
Anti-Semites are working diligently to disenfranchise and destroy Israel through terrorism, military action, and propaganda.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently declared the Palestinians to be “the Canaanites” and Israel “the enemy.” “We will enter Jerusalem as fighters by the millions,” he said in August. “We will all enter it, all of the Palestinian people and all of the Arab and Islamic and Christian nations! Everyone will enter Jerusalem!”3
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) promotes itself as a humanitarian, pro-Palestinian organization, while in fact it is an anti-Semitic poison pill prescribed to bring death to the Jewish state.
We know where all this opposition comes from: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
God is not fooled. He knows the score and will settle all accounts. Our responsibility is to be on His side and maintain His cause.
Someday the Lord will end the Diaspora. When that day comes, the descendants of Jacob will be reconciled to their Messiah and be led to their place called home by the hand of the One who fulfilled His promise.
May it be soon!
- “109 Locations whence Jews have been Expelled since AD250” (biblebelievers.org.au/expelled.htm).
- Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1987), 2.
- Maurice Hirsch and Itamar Marcus, “Abbas: ‘We Are the Canaanites! . . . [Israel Is] the enemy,’” PMW Bulletins, palwatch.org, August 20, 2019 (tinyurl.com/yxw7wst5).