Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How Russia; the Largest Country in the World Brought About Israel

Nadene Goldfoot                                            
 Hitler reviewing troops on Eastern Front 1939.  In August 1939 Russia and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact, but on June 22, 1941, Germany entered Russia-ready to kill all Jews.  So much for pacts!!!

I turned on the History 2 channel this afternoon and the program was about how the Germans went into Russia and the first thing they wanted to do was to kill all the Jews they found.  They killed everyone, including little children in the most bloody of ways.  I wanted to cry for all of them.  The news is constant on TV about Russia and the steps they are taking with Obama, China and of course, Ukraine today.  Their behavior is not new.  Look at their history with us.  What's that old saying?

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Russia's goal has always been that of continual growth, meaning adding land onto their empire.  At the end of the 15th century, Moscow began gaining land and right now they' re trying to take over Ukraine.  Ukraine was one part of the Pale of Settlement, an area where Jews were permitted to live in since they were banned from Russia proper.  Russia's past history shows that they took land sometimes peacefully but quite often otherwise.  The Czars followed this policy, and then the Communists who replaced them.  The USSR was by far the largest country in the world before its fall.  In 1978 there were 2,680,000 Jews living in the Soviet Union.  They wouldn't allow Jews to leave and move to Israel.  Jews couldn't practice their religion, either, as all Russians had to become atheists.
       Life in a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement, maybe Ukraine,  as shown from Fiddler on the Roof

All the time they encouraged and practiced anti-Semitism.  Jews were forbidden to enter Russia even for temporary reasons.  In 1772 the czars took over Lithuania and large sections of Poland and by doing so they found they were ruling over the world's largest Jewish community.  This became part of the Pale of Settlement.  Did that mean that Jews were left in peace?  "You haven't ever seen Fiddler on the Roof", then. Remember to Cossacks coming into the shtetl and as drunk as they were,  destroy as much as they could, including attacks on the Jews?  that was a Pogrom.  Golda Meier, former Prime Minister of Israel, wrote about her experiences in a pogrom.

The cruelty of the Russians then was shown by drafting Jewish boys into military service at age 12 or younger and stationing them in distant places such as Siberia.  They then attacked these young boys by violence and starvation in order to convert them to Christianity.  Of course this was in the days when their religion was fashionable.  These boys, if they lived, had to stay in the army for 30 years or more.  The surprise is that some held onto their Jewish roots, something they had barely remembered.
The czar in 1855 was Alexander II and startled Jews with acts of kindness.  Luther started that way with Jews, too, but did a 180 turnaround when he saw they wouldn't convert.  Alexander reduced restrictions on their work and their lives and urged them to become educated in Russian history.  Many did and became known as Haskalah (Enlightenment).  Finally, Jews saw that this was all part of Alexander's trick, similar to Luther's.  He was trying to take away their Jewish identity, so the government organized "spontaneous attacks against Jewish villages and towns with Pogroms-destruction.

Anti-Jewish laws were passed.  The worst was the "May Laws."  These forbade Jews from living in rural areas of the Pale.  65,000 Jews were forced out of their village homes, causing terrible overcrowding in cities where they were permitted to live.  It threw the economy of that area into chaos.  The czar knew what he was doing.  He said that 1/3 of the Jews would emigrate.  1/3 would convert.  1/3 would starve to death.

What happened was that 2 million Jews did leave and most went to the USA.  Many came over in the early 1900s; before and after like my grandfather from Lithuania via England and Ireland and my grandmother directly from Suwalki, Poland/Lithuania.   Those that stayed found ways to survive and kept Jewish scholarship going.  The Polish area remained a world leader in Talmudic studies until Hitler came along.  Jews became active in Zionism and socialism which were dedicated to improving the lives of Jews and of the world in general.

1917 was the end of World War I and also meant the fall of the czars.  It brought about a sudden end to anti-Jewish legislation.  Communist revolution brought a new wave of Russian oppression.  The Communists campaigned against religion.  They closed synagogues, made religious education illegal and put great pressure on Jews to end their traditional ways.

At the same time, Russia said that the Jewish people were members of a separate nationality.  At least in 1978, Soviet passports called us Jews and not Russians and Russian Jews were forced to live under new restrictions again.  They couldn't leave the country because this would cause Russia  embarrassment.  Everyone wanted to leave.  Russian Jewry hid from the rest of the world until the 1950's.  Jews in the USA were afraid their relatives would forget about Judaism just like the world had forgotten about them and their pain.  By the 1960's, the international attention was turned onto their situation and they began to demand their rights, including the right to leave Russia.  By the 1970s, tens of thousands were allowed to leave.

I made aliyah in 1980 and went over to be in a retraining program for teachers of English.  In my class were many many Russian teachers of English.  My teacher, Sarah, was carrying on a letter correspondence with a Russian in prison, Sharansky, and was teaching him Hebrew that way on the sly.  The bad thing was that when they spoke English, I, as an American born, couldn't understand them!  Another bad thing was that they were far smarter than I in learning Hebrew!  They were used to learning new languages and knew how to learn and study for Hebrew.  My husband and I didn't.  Though Danny taught boys for their bar mitzvah in Florida, he was having a terrible time learning to speak Hebrew.  We were in our late 30s and this had something to do with it.  Languages are hard to learn when you're older.  So between these 2 facts, we fell to the 3rd and smaller class, the gimel level, and did much better.  Then in the junior high I taught in, I was able to help the Russian and Egyptian teachers of English speak English better throughout my 5 years of living in Israel.  .
                                  Jewish immigration started in 1820s and ended in 1924

Jews had a different sort of history in the USA. In the 1600s 23 Jews from Brazil came in a boat to New York (New Amsterdam) wanting to enter.  What had happened was that The governor turned them down only to be told by his Amsterdam company that they were shareholders in the company and that he should allow them to enter.   In 1791 America's First amendment to the US Constitution made freedom of religion the land of the land.  In 1825, there were only 6,000 Jews in the USA and 9 congregations.  In the 1840s German Jews came over in large numbers and by 1871 there were 250,000 Jews in America.

In the 1880s Russian Jews sailed to Palestine to live.  They were building up the empty land.  Though there were Jews living there, they needed the push from these Ashkenazis to deal with the Ottoman Empire and build.  It's a time when Ashkenazi met up with Mizrachi and Sephardim that had returned to Eretz Yisrael.  This is when many Arabs followed them there hoping to get jobs in the building and development of the land.

 Then Russian Jews immigrated to the USA in the 1900s for reasons why listed above. It was a country already established, unlike Palestine, where immigrated had to start from scratch, much like the returnees from Babylon in 538-515 BCE. after Solomon's Temple was destroyed in 597 BCE and the people had been deported to  Babylon.  
      Starting off life in America as peddlers.  My grandfather had a horse and a wagon In Portland, Oregon.

Jews landed in New York and the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island became a bustling Yiddish-speaking city within the city with their own schools, synagogues and a rich cultural life.
By 1917 after WWI, a law was passed which almost ended immigration but Jewish immigration in particular.While Germany raised its hand against us with the Holocaust, only a trickle of Jewish refugees were permitted to enter the states. Medical schools then had quotas on Jewish students.  We were kept out except for a few.   Even so, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was seen as the Jewish protector and practically all Jews registered as Democrats, and like being faithful to Judaism, have remained faithful to their father's choice of politics, except for a few who have left.

1948 and Israel became a state with President Harry S. Truman voting first for its creation.  Come to find out, my mother was connected to Bess Truman's family tree.  She didn't know that Bess tended to be rather anti-Semitic.  1967's Six Day War added many admirers of Israel, but since then, our reputation has been smudged by anti-Semitic propaganda along with all the attacks they have had to defend themselves against.
The USSR collapsed on December 26, 1991.  The president of Russia today is Vladimir Putin.  "In the international community, Putin is thought of as a fan of Israel and the relations between Israel and Russia had been considered good. When the US and EU condemned the annexation of Crimea and attacked Moscow for providing help to Ukrainian rebels, Israel was practically the only country that made a point to abstain from criticizing or protesting Russia - a silence that was met bitterly in Washington." Russia accused the USA of arming the Syrian rebels, which they have been doing.  But Russia has been arming Israel's enemies.  ""Syria ... was supplying Hizbullah with Russian weapons. In 2006, Israeli forces found evidence of the Russian-made Kornet-E and Metis-M anti-tank systems in Hizbullah's possession in southern Lebanon. "  Russia has sold anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.  
Today the USA has about 6 million Jews living in the USA and 6 million living in Israel.  About 2 million are scattered in other parts of the world.  Our 14 million make up about 0.02% of the world population.  The Russians had made it unbearable for Jews to remain in Russia and live as Jews, so they have left at different periods for Israel.  Hopefully now, the Jews of the Soviet Union, over 2 1/2 million, have moved to Israel and are there today. Without Russia's terrible treatment of Jews in Russia, they may never had made aliyah to Israel.  That's the purpose of our tiny state; to be there for Jews who have suffered in the hands of other nations because of their religion.  Natan  Sharansky is now Chairman of the Jewish Agency in Israel.  I heard him speak when he visited Portland, Oregon a few years ago. Little does he know that he and I shared the same Hebrew teacher.  He did very well with his education by letters.

Resource: My People, Abba Eban's HIstory of the Jews Volume I adapted by David Bamberger pages 222-226
GOLDA by Peggy Mann sure to read this.

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