By Eli Ajzenman
“Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?”
This quote was sent to me by Mara. It was asked of Chaim Weizmann by a member of the House of Lords years before the Balfour Deceleration. He responded
“That is like me asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living in your street”
It’s coincidental that today i was reading a very interesting article about Stalin and his plans for a “Jewish State” in Birobidzhan. Where? you ask. That’s what I thought when I came across this strange name and there is even a website dedicated to the history of this project.
In 1934 the Soviet Government established the Jewish Autonomous Region, popularly known as Birobidzhan, in a sparsely populated area some five thousand miles east of Moscow. Designated as the national homeland of Soviet Jewry, Birobidzhan was part of the Kremlin’s effort to create an alternative to Palestine.
Stalin described the Jews in this way.
... A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”
Among the Jews there is no large and stable stratum connected with the land, which would naturally rivet the nation together.”
Joseph Stalin, 1913
He got everything right except the part about territory. Although the Jews did not live there, Israel was the one place that Jews had ensconced into all their liturgy, customs and dreams of hope. It was the one territory that could afford them the peace of mind knowing that they were not strangers amongst others.
Yet it is unbelievable how many places the rest of the world wanted to create to shift the Jewish nation out of their own countries and somewhere else
The list is amazing and includes countries like Uganda, India,British Guyana,Fugu,Madagascar and even the Kimberly region of Western Australia.
Why is it that the world was happy to move Jews anywhere but the one place they wanted to be. Jews were always seen as the problem, something to get rid of and forget. It didn’t seem to matter that the one place Jews wanted to go was never on the agenda.
Even Jews themselves seemed reticent to leave and make their home in what Mark Twain described as
“a barren, empty, desolate country with a small impoverished , scattered population”
The other a day a young Russian Jewish youth , about 23 , approached me as I was standing outside my place of work grabbing some air. Well it was actually a cigarette.
He asked if I could spare one. He seemed a bit lost and without any prompting from me he asked would I give him some advise.
Sure , not that I knew what he was going to ask me. He Said he felt very lost. No job no many friends and his parents had told him that he should go to Uni and become a Doctor , lawyer all the usual stuff that Jewish parents tell their children. I asked him what did he want to do. He answered, that he was thinking of going to Israel and joining a Kibbutz.
His parents and friends all have tried to dissuade him from doing so, yet he felt that this was the only place that he could find himself and make something of himself.
What did I think?
I said life here is like a donut. Lots of fat around the outside , but when you get to the middle, nothing is there except an empty whole. Yet most of us , me included have spent out lives trying to grow the donut.
I told him of some wonderful stories of people I had met on Kibbutz who came there as troubled young adults and left with pride and self respect. One in particular who ended up living on Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border,as child doctor. He was a wild , drug addicted, alcoholic who had been thrown out of most of the Re-habs in Chicago.
Yet something in Israel and the experience on Kibbutz changed his life.I suggested that he could do no worse than going and making aliyah. The only things that mattered was being a good person and having self respect.
Something in our genealogy triggers our desire to live in the one place G-D had promised us. It tends to come out when we are troubled or in trouble. Stalin and the rest of the world can never understand what Israel means to the Jews.
It seems strange that for 2000 years we have only ever mentioned one place that was special in our hearts, yet the world seemed dead against it. In this weeks Parsha, Pharaoh also does not want “his” Jews to leave.
I hope that Daniel, the young Russian, finds his way , both to Israel and self fulfillment.
For the rest of us may I wish you a Shabbat Shalom. I hope that you spend it with family, friends and all those you care about