One of the most amazing things about being Jewish is the recurrent examples of the indestructibility of the human spirit that one encounters. Last Shabbat I had the privilege – and it really was a privilege – to be involved in the second bar mitzvah of someone who had missed his first bar mitzvah because he had been in the Lodz Ghetto. Zigi has lived life to the full, and was surrounded on this amazing occasion by his wife of 60 years, his daughters, his six grandchildren, and his great grandson. With a degree of energy that would do credit to a man half his age he speaks to schools and adult groups internationally about the Holocaust.
I mentioned that to see a great grandfather present at a great grandson’s bar mitzvah was not impossible. This was the first occasions when I had seen a great grandson present at what was really his great grandfather’s first bar mitzvah.
What is it about our people that has enabled us throughout our history to continuously bounce back? Anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews are nothing new, and yet every empire throughout history, however great and mighty, however wealthy and influential, has crumbled into dust. The small Jewish people, almost never more than one half of one percent of any nation that for a while has been its home, has managed nevertheless to survive and flourish. Perhaps most amazingly of all; it was just over three years after the discovery of the Holocaust and its immeasurable depredations of Jewish life, that the State of Israel arose.
The doctrine of a Chosen People, the idea that there is a direct connection between the Jews and God and that we are under his particular protection, is often rejected as being racist and elitist. The famous couplet “How odd of God/ to choose the Jews” has produced a number of responses of which my two favourites are “But not so odd/As those who choose/A Jewish God/But spurn the Jews” and the rather pithier “Not so odd/The Jews chose God”.
And yet without some direct divine protection it is impossible to account for our survival.