Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture, Part VII

This part covers Jewish history from the Holocaust to present.  There's only one part after that, and it appears to be more about prominent figures than about history.

One of the things that impressed me the most about what I read in Part 7 is the significance of numbers with respect to Holocaust victims and survivors.  I knew that Hitler killed 11 million people, and that 6 million of those people were Jewish.  I knew that Final Solution was the first genocide, but what I never knew was that Jews themselves were never counted.

Jewish law says that a person should never be reduced to a number.  Therefore, Jewish people were never counted.  When you needed to figure out if you had a minyan present, a special 10-word verse was recited, with each person saying one word.  If the verse got finished, then you had enough people to daven.  Even when it came time to take a census, the people themselves were never counted.  Each person paid half a shekel, and the money was counted in order to determine the number of Jews.
This, to me, makes the tragedy twofold; the people were killed when their names were taken from them and replaced with a number tattooed on their arms.   They were killed again when their bodies died.  This is one of the reasons why Anne Frank is such a powerful symbol of the time; she was an individual, not a cold statistic.

I'm not going to write much else about the Holocaust.  The true tragedy is the number of people who turned a blind eye and failed to act.  I'm not talking about immediately declaring war on the Third Reich.  If countries had simply opened their borders to Jewish people and allowed immigration, things would have been much different.

After WWII, Israel was founded as a place where the Jewish people could be free of persecution.  It hasn't been peaceful since, but it has grown amazingly quickly.  For a country that has only existed since 1948, much has been accomplished in the way of development.  I only wish that peace can be negotiated, and soon.

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