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Thursday, 30 May 2013

An Interesting Observation ...

Mark Twain, otherwise known as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, author of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and numerous other stories, wrote of the Jews as a people -

"...If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but 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. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" 

("Concerning The Jews," Harper's Magazine, 1899) 

It is an observation that certainly challenges many, especially at this time when Jews are once again the target of bigotry and prejudice. In Mr Clemens' day the Russian pogroms were rumbling along and spreading into neighbouring countries. Jews were still barely 'tolerated' in Spain, Italy and in France the infamous Dreyfus affair revealed a deep seated anti-semitic streak in their society. Even in Britain, Jews were not welcome in 'polite' society even though one of its more effective Prime Ministers, Benjamin D'Israeli, was a Jew. He had to convert to Christianity to be permitted to take his seat as an MP!

Jewish doctors, scientists and philosophers have made a huge impact on all societies down the centuries. As Mark Twain remarked, a disproportionately large one given the actual numbers involved. 

What is it, for instance, that drives a Jew, when faced with a strip of barren and 'tired' land on the edge of a desert, to roll up his sleeves and create an irrigation system so he can plant trees and grow oranges where his non-Jewish neighbours herded goats? They have their failures as well, and their crooks, but as a community they seem to be a lot better at picking themselves up, sticking a plaster on the wounds and getting stuck into rebuilding or trying something different, than anyone else. Whether they 'practice' their religion or not, they manage to retain their sense of identity and their cultural heritage a lot better than any other people in history.

They often blend into the background of whatever society they happen to live in. Sometimes you won't know someone is Jewish unless he tells you, yet they know one another - and not because of some 'secret signs' or 'arkane rituals'. It is because they have a certain way of doing things, a way of looking at history, or a way of dealing with others. It is, of course, founded in their faith, again whether they 'practice' it by regular prayer and attendance in the Synagogue, or not. So what is it that gives them the impetus to be so creative, so inventive, and so dogged in their persistence?

It may be in their genes, though I doubt it. For one thing, as most of those who have taken part in the Genographic Survey started a few years ago by the National Geographic Society have discovered, almost everyone with a European or Middle Eastern background has at least one of the genetic markers associated with the Ashkenazi or the Sephardic Jewish diaspora in their genetic make-up. That is hardly surprising, since they have, as a people, been scattered through the Middle East, North Africa and Europe since the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian kings around 598 BC. Yet, despite their internal factions, every attempt to suppress them, convert them, and exterminate them, they have managed to retain their identity and their heritage.

I think that is not only admirable, I think it contains some vital lessons for the rest of us.

Mark Twain, himself a Presbyterian, and though he was critical of organised religion, still a practioner, seems to have had a sneaking admiration for his Jewish contemporaries. As he remarked, their impact on all of the sciences and the arts is completely disproportionate to their numbers. In my view, that alone explains why they have succeeded in turning modern Israel into a thriving hub of agriculture, industry and commerce in the midst of a desert, both figuratively and literally.

Israel is a success story in the sense that it is a working democracy, economically stable (despite attempts to destablise it), and it is constantly at the forefront of innovative thinking in art, science and medicine. So why do so many in the West hate it, and want to see it destroyed? Could it be envy? 

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