Where do Jews belong?

Spain exiled all Jews in 1492, Britain in 1290, not letting them back in, officially, until 1656. Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians all oppressed the same knot of difficult people, with their beards and rituals and vexing tendency to stay where they’re not wanted, which sometimes seems almost everywhere.

A human-headed, winged bull from the throne room of King Sargon II, on display at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures at the University of Chicago.

A human-headed, winged bull from the throne room of King Sargon II, on display at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures at the University of Chicago. Sargon, king of Assyria, conquered Samaria in 721 B.C. and dispersed the Jews who lived there.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Driving to the dedication of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie in April 2009, I remember thinking: Do we really need another Holocaust museum? There’s already a big one on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

And then I saw a knot of Illinois Nazis, in uniform, protesting. Ah, yes, right — that’s why we need another museum. Because people like this are still here.

American Jews had been souring on Israel, with its Trump wannabe president deforming the judiciary simply to keep his butt out of prison, splitting apart the country, causing massive turmoil. It left many here wondering: What’s the point of having a Jewish state if it’s going to be like this?

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Then, Oct. 7. A thousand civilians slaughtered. And the world is reminded, yet again: that’s why there’s an Israel. Because people exist who will murder a baby because they don’t like her government. Which, if you think about it, and they never do, the baby has not yet had a say in. Hamas thought it was striking a blow against Israel, when really, with grotesque eloquence, Hamas held a master class in the urgent need for Israel.

Because there are always people ready to kill Jews — or shrug off the killing of Jews as the only right and moral thing to do.

Because Jews are guilty, not of killing Christ, of late, but still of the crime of being Jews lingering on a spot of ground where Jews don’t belong, which if we look to history, is almost anywhere Jews happen to be. Juden raus! the Germans said. “Jews Out.” The fact that they had been living there for 1,500 years didn’t matter.

When I passed the Illinois Nazis on that day in 2009, I was tempted to pull over and hear their view of life. But then I was afraid I’d start talking back, and that wouldn’t end well. Though the only thing I really have to say to neo-Nazis is: You do know, this whole Nazi business did not end well for the Germans, right? Proud and powerful in 1933, with a refined culture of Rilke and biergartens. A dozen years of Naziism later, Germany was an expanse of rubble and the scorn of the civilized world. Hatred blows back on you, eventually.

When the Illinois Holocaust Museum opened in 2009, a small group of neo-Nazis marched outside.

One of the Nazis protesting nearby on the day in 2009 that the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center opened in Skokie.

Getty

Though give the Nazis at the opening of the Holocaust museum credit for candor. At least they were in uniform. They didn’t gather to show their support of the autobahn and the trains running on time, then, when challenged, flutter their fingers at their sternums and protest. “Nazis? Us? Supporting concentration camps? Noooo, we just believe that Germany is the legitimate owner of Austria and the Sudetenland, and needs lebensraum — room to grow. We deplore violence of any kind. ...”

Hamas hasn’t discovered anything new. Going back in time, there’s the Palestinian Liberation Organization, murdering Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. In the 1960s, Egypt, Syria and assorted Arab states tried to destroy Israel — that’s how the territories got occupied in the first place.

Moving further into the past, we have the aforementioned Nazis. Plus the Soviets, who killed their share of Jews (joined by a number of countries in Eastern Europe whom I will not specify, lest their embassies get all upset, again. Though I will share my line summarizing their approach: “They think they’re refuting antisemitism, when in fact they’re manifesting it.”).

Family members mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Shilo Rauchberger at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Oct. 12, 2023.

Relatives mourn at the funeral of Israeli soldier Shilo Rauchberger at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

Keep pulling this thread. It goes back a long way. Spain exiled all its Jews in 1492; Britain did the same thing in 1290, and Jews weren’t officially let back in until 1656. Most Londoners laughing at “The Merchant of Venice” — it was originally a comedy — had never met a Jew.

Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians. Their empires rise and fall, all oppressing the same knot of difficult people, with their beards and their rituals and their vexing tendency to stay where they’re not wanted, which is almost everywhere.

Funny thing is, if it were any other group, say, a tribe of hunters discovered in the Amazonian rainforest, yammering in an ancient language, clinging to ways thousands of years old, the same students taking to the streets Sunday would instead hold protests, demanding that a few thousand square miles be set aside as a preserve for them. But let that ancient tribe be Jews, and, well, somehow we don’t count, being Jews, who belong nowhere. Or so we are told — though, being Jews, we disagree.

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