By Daniel Chejfec
Jews have been an inconvenient presence in the world stage for many centuries. The early Church was embarrassed by their presence, since they claimed that Jesus, as the awaited Jewish Messiah, represented the perfection of Judaism: Christianity. And the Church, of course, became the new chosen people, the "New Israel". Yet the Jews had that nagging way of not dying and stick around. So they changed history - one first attempt was the accusation of Deicide, making Jews responsible for the actions of the Romans; another one was burying the history of the early Judeo Christian Church which advocated the permanence of Jewish Law rather than its elimination, and it was led by none other than James, known as the brother of Jesus. the history of Christian self definition is full of attempts to minimize or erase the Jewish roots of Christianity, until in recent times Christians began to rediscover them and were enriched by it, as they enriched us with their dialog with us.
Yet the hobby of erasing Jewish history is far from unpopular and certainly not confined to the history of the Christian Church. As an Argentinean I am well aware that a Jew is a Jew until it becomes famous - then he (or she) becomes "Argentinean" with no reference to a Jewish connection. There is a long list of writers, explorers and scientist who fit this profile.
The Communist regime in Eastern Europe did its best to erase the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust, a fact reflected in the communist era monument at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. And the Allies preferred to ignore the role of Jews providing intelligence during the War under the code name "Red Max"
In more recent times, Islamists have been trying to erase the connection of Jews to the land of Israel that they call Palestine, a name connected with a Roman attempt to erase the name of Judea. Should I mentioned the Abbasid Caliphate whose Caliphs proclaimed the holiness of Jerusalem as a way to create an alternate pilgrimage destination controlled by them as opposed to Mecca and Medina which were out of their control? or should I mention more recent attempts like the 1997 excavations by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, in the area known as "Solomon's Temple", during which they dumped tons of first and second Temple era relics? or the attempted destruction of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus in 2000?
But two particular attempts at erasing facts from history stand out in my mind. The first refers to a book published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press in London. The book, entitled "Alms for Jihad", was authored by J Millard Burr, a former USAID relief coordinator in Sudan and historian Robert Collins. Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz, a Saudi millionaire founder of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia and personal Banker of the Saudi Royal Family, took advantage of the British Libel Tourism law and sued Cambridge for the publication of the book (which named him as one of the main funders of Al Qaeda). As a result, Cambridge University Press removed the book from circulation in August of 2007 - a move widely considered the equivalent of book burning. If you google "Alms for Jihad" and you go to the wikipedia hit, you can get the full story. Mahfouz was found guilty in multiple trials for money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism and arms trafficking. Evidence was also found of his donating more than a quarter million dollars to Osama Bin Laden in 1988.
Adding to this long list of attempts to erase the memory of Jewish existence and history comes the most recent attack on December 18, 2009, on the last day of Hanukkah. Vandals stole the sign hanging over the entrance to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp; while a replica of it has already been hanged in its place, the original "Arbet Macht Frei" sign is now missing. The robbery could have been motivated by financial gain, but considering the historical significance of the sign the motivations are more probably on the side of Holocaust denial. Yes, attempts to erase Jewish contributions to mankind abound - yet one article by an American journalist raises a different question:
"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust 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 the world, in all the ages; and has 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 peoples 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?"
The author of this article, published under the title "Concerning the Jews", was none other than Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), popularly known as Mark Twain. People attempted and will continue to attempt to erase the Jewish experience from the book of Human history, but the print left by our people is indelible, because Jews not only do we have have history but more importantly, we have memory...
Participating in Jewish life is the most effective way to keep the memories alive and to make new memories for generations to come. Be part of the "Jewish print", volunteer and participate.