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Footprints in the Sands of Time

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Wandering of Jews are documented, but Israel is still home.
By Robin Silver-Zwiren
It is unfortunate that more seem to die in the name of G-d than actually for G-d. Innocent III believed that if it was acceptable to punish traitors for civil disobedience, then how much greater should the punishment be for traitors to the Church and the Almighty. Ironically, Jews, who have been the most likely to suffer throughout history, are not the ones who are desecrating the words of Jesus as all he preached was the gospel of Jewish practices. Jesus preached the love for the Hashem and other people. He preached for women to be treated fairly and for synagogues to be places of worship and education. Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew just like Daniel Pearl, Leon Klinghoffer, Ezra Schwartz and the multitudes during the Holocaust and so called Holy Wars.
The Biblical Hebrew people were also given the name B’nai Yisroel, the children of Israel. The Hebrews, modern day Jews, are tied to this land longer than any other peoples. There are no Assyrians, Moabites, Edomites, Canaanites, Chaldeans, Babylonians or even the small tribe of Philistines mentioned throughout the Old Testament. The Arabs that conquered ancient lands were not Muslims just as Romans were not Christians when Jews adopted their monotheistic practices. For whatever reason, Jews continue to be the most persecuted peoples though.
When Mohammed, the camel herder, decided to study the practices of inhabitants in the area, he found Bedouins who were not more than wild tribesmen pursuing tribal feuds with neighbors. Most Arabs lived in the desert with some in larger cities. Mohammed found he had more to learn from the Jews and Christians of the region. Islam, “submission to G-d,” accepts Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets but establishes Mohammed as the final prophet as written in the Koran. Although he preached peace and love of others, the religious tolerance led many followers to forcibly convert non-believers. As Islam spread, often from attacking villages and plundering cities where people could only survive if they accepted Islam into their hearts, the followers took on many faces. Muslims could be Arabs, Berbers, Turks, Pakistani or Spanish Moors. After Muhammad died, many of the Caliphs who followed were more resourceful and tyrannical.
During the Crusades the Church followers not only attacked Jews but Muslims. It was during these times that often Muslims and Jews provided a safe haven for the other by offering a safe haven or escape route. In fact, it was the Arab Muslims who often stood to gain the most from defeating the Crusaders as they controlled the commerce and trade routes that they did not want the Europeans to acquire. Throughout these times, there were always Jews living in the Holy Land just as there was when Jews were forced to leave for Babylon and other regions. That is why this land is so much a part of our being.
The Hebrews that Moses led through the desert saw the Promised Land before their eyes. Just as Jews had to do again in more recent history, they settled on land that was barren. Families settled down, and the land prospered. At one time in our history, the land was divided into 12 distinct districts: Reuven, Gad and Menashe east of the Jordan River; Naftali, Asher, Zebulon, Issachar and Menashe north of Shechem; Ephraim, Dan and Benyamin between Shechem and Hebron; Judah and Simeon south of Hebron. During the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, the Israelites were a proud, fierce nation, but even then they were defeated. They dispersed as they continue to do. That is why Jews can be found in even the most faraway places from Ethiopia to China to Russia to the Americas. All too often, the intolerance follows us. Thus, having Israel, the Promised Land, for us the Chosen People, is so important.
Wherever Jews have lived, it seems that a footprint is not all left behind. In Iraq there were many large Jewish communities over a thousand years before the rise of Islam. By 1900 Jews had lived in Iraq continuously for 2,500 years. Iran is the land of Persia, we learn from Megillat Esther, read on Purim. At times Jews were highly taxed and forced to live in ghettos, but many Jews were highly educated and confidants and healers to Kings, to the Shahs. Jewish communities in North Africa, India, China and Europe, especially along the coast, were formed. Jews established trade routes for fabrics, furs and spices, produced wine and olive oil and became money lenders. Jews were often proficient in several languages, so they were able to write books and pen letters. Yet the more dependent others became on them, the more the Jews were (are) often despised.
Benjamin Tudela, who lived from 1130 to 1173, traveled around Europe, Africa and Asia. Wherever he went, he tried to locate even the smallest Jewish community and discuss local traditions and lore. Often Hebrew was their common language, and this is what he used in his detailed diary, which is priceless to many today. This treasure has been translated into many languages. Considering that his travels predate Marco Polo’s by one hundred years, it is extremely important to historians as well as geographers. Altogether, Rabbi Benjamin chronicled life in about 300 cities in a time when no one else was doing the same. It was the era of the Crusades. He may have been searching for exiled Jews or may simply have loved to travel. In any case, his book is a valuable contribution.
With Jewish footprints in the sands of time, how can it be that we are left with so little land to call our own? We rightfully settled in the land of our forefathers, Israel, and were exiled. Yet, some, if only a few, always remained, which should be enough to prove a constant existence in our Jewish homeland. When dispersed, we settled in lands across a pre-Islamic Arab Peninsula. Jews settled in places like Iraq, Persia, Egypt, Spain and Germany. Cities like Malta, Carthage, Cochin, Bombay, Cyprus, Fez and Jerba all had significant Jewish populations. Yet nowhere is our rightful home, or so we are told during all the pogroms and holocausts. When will our footsteps be cemented rather than like sand so easily blown away?

An extended version of this content was originally published on KosherOC.
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