Israel Resource Center
Beit Hatfutsot (Diaspora) Museum

From the Museum’s website:

“Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, is more than a museum. This unique global institution tells the ongoing and extraordinary story of the Jewish people… Beit Hatfutsot conveys to the world the fascinating narrative of the Jewish people and the essence of the Jewish culture, faith, purpose and deed while presenting the contribution of world Jewry to humanity”

BH1The museum showcases the development of Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora, focusing on the unique characteristics of each community while demonstrating how their roots tie them all together. Exhibitions are changing all the time and include many interactive elements. One such element has the visitor pretend that they are a Jew in a specific time and place and then make a decision as to how to deal with a dilemma or crisis typical of the period. The visitor is then given the likely result of his decision.

YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe

From around the 10th century CE onwards, the Jewish world was divided into two major groups. The first group, called the Sefardim or Spaniards, lived mostly in Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The second group, known as the Ashkenazim or “Germans”, lived in the more Northern sections of Europe, from France and Germany to Poland and Russia.

europeantown

An Eastern European Jewish town.

Eastern Europe was an important cultural center of the Ashkenazi Jews from the 16th century until the Second World War. This region includes what are now the countries of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Romania and Russia.

Never Again: The Yad Vashem Website

Jude StarThe Holocaust refers to the systematic murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War Two. Though the Jewish people had been persecuted in Europe for centuries, a premeditated genocidal campaign of this scope was unprecedented in modern history, thus leaving a lasting impression on the Jewish people and on the Western world as a whole. The atrocities of the Second World War remind posterity of humankind’s barbarity if left unopposed. The establishment of Holocaust museums following the war serve as a clarion call to ensure similar events will never happen again.

Yad Vashem is the official Israeli museum and research center on the Holocaust. It is one of the largest such institutions in the world. In addition to the physical museum, Yad Vashem has a comprehensive, scholarly website with information on every aspect of the Holocaust. Anyone who wishes to learn more of this shameful period in human history would do well to start here:

http://www.yadvashem.org/

The Shekel

The shekel served as the name of the currency of the People of Israel in ancient times dating back even before they were called Jews. When the state of Israel was formed, the founders of the nation termed the currency shekel as homage to the Jewish People’s ancient currency. The shekel was used in a variety of ways in throughout history.

The Half Shekel

In the first temple period (1000-586 BCE) a shekel referred to a specific measure of weight. The word shekel itself comes from the Hebrew linguistic root ‘to weigh’. The Torah (Jewish Bible) commands that all men above the age of twenty must contribute a half a shekel to the building of the Jewish Temple.

A shekel minted in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70 AD)

A shekel minted in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70 AD)

The Jewish Temple was not the same as the present day synagogue of Jewish communities around the world – i.e., a local place of prayer and nothing more. While it stood, the Temple was the most important religious building of the Jewish people. The Temple was the center for Jews from all corners of the country to come on three festivals – Pessah, Shavu’ot and Sukkot. For 2000 years since it was destroyed, Jews all over the world have prayed for God to rebuild the Temple and restore His presence within it. No other Jewish religious site has any comparable significance.

Hanukkah

Jewish Calendar Date: 25th of Kislev to 2nd of Tevet

In the 2nd century BC, the land of Israel was ruled by the Seleucid Empire; the Seleucid Empire controlled most of the territory conquered by Alexander the Great two centuries earlier. Initially, the Seleucid Empire was tolerant of the Jewish religion. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus III even granted the Jews a written set of legal rights; the legal edict ensured that the Jews could live according to the ways of their forefathers without persecution.

Bust of Antiochus IV at the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Bust of Antiochus IV at the Altes Museum in Berlin

However, in 168-7 BC the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanies’ ((This means ‘God Manifest’ in Greek)), litigated oppressive measures to expunge his empire of Judaism ((This was an unusual decision since the Greeks were generally pluralistic and tolerant of other religions. Scholars continue to debate why Antiochus IV decided to do what he did. See here for a more detailed account of the historical background and here for the different reasons given for the religious persecutions.

Defensible Borders Summary

A few years ago, a prominent Israeli think tank known as the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published a free online book titled “Israel’s Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders: The Foundation for a Viable Peace”. What follows is a summary of the book’s main arguments.

Background

In June 1967 the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq amassed on Israel’s borders and threatened the young country’s existence. Israel launched a pre-emptive defensive strike against the attacking Arab armies. The Israeli Defense Force drove them back from the Israeli border seizing territories either legally belonging to or militarily occupied by the belligerent Arab states.

Both Israel and the international community hoped Israel could return control of the territories in exchange for a permanently binding peace treaty with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

The Mesha Stele

The Mesha stele is a large inscription tablet from the 9th century BCE. Mesha the king of Moab, a country on the eastern side of the Jordan River during the 1st Temple period (1200-586 BCE) authored the inscription tablet. It was discovered in 1868 by a German missionary by the name of Fredrik Klein.

Mesha SteleIn the stele Mesha describes how the Israelite kings Omri and Ahab* enslaved the kingdom of Moab in the 9th century BCE. The tablet details Mesha’s rebellion against the Kingdom of Israel; Mesha destroyed Israelite towns in Moab to rid his kingdom of foreign domination. Additionally, the stele describes routine affairs such as repairs and improvements to roads and city walls.

Israel’s Fight Against Desertification

[The following is an excerpt from a UN report on Israel’s efforts to combat desertification]

Overview

Some 95% of Israel is dry sub-humid, semi-arid, arid or hyper-arid, with 60% of the country’s land area is covered by the Negev Desert. Thus Israelis almost entirely comprised of drylands accompanied by the ever-present threats of soil degradation and desertification.

Israel has taken a number of countermeasures during the past several years that strengthen its efforts to address the desertification processes. Most of these activities were part of planning, environmental, and development strategies or policies for the sustainable use of natural resources. The majority were not specifically directed towards implementing a comprehensive national strategy to combat desertification. Nonetheless, they frequently make a significant contribution to Israel’s ongoing efforts to reduce erosion, increase the productivity of lands in the semi-arid drylands, ensure agricultural yields in general, and promote afforestation efforts throughout the country.

The following are some of the major programs which have been implemented in each of the country’s dryland types:

Arid and hyper-arid drylands: flood control, water harvesting, effluent treatment and reuse of treated wastewater for crop irrigation and landscaping; management of natural vegetation and applied agricultural crops including techniques such as drought and saline resistant crops and greenhouse agriculture.

A Primer on the Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the most important archaeological achievements of the Twentieth Century was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the largest and oldest repository of ancient Jewish texts currently available. The discovery of these scrolls has provided scholars with ground breaking information regarding Judaism and Christianity during the Late Second Temple Period (200 BCE – 70 CE).

What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of writings that include both complete texts and several fragmented texts. The majority of the scrolls were written between 150 BC and 70 CE, predominantly in Hebrew, although some are in Aramaic and Greek. The scrolls were produced by the Essenes – a Jewish sect that resided in the JudeanDesertnear the Dead Sea, in the ancient town of Qumran. The scrolls were kept in eleven caves and placed inside ceramic jars for safekeeping.
Psalms_Scroll
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 by an Arab shepherd. After a series of long and complicated negotiations, Israeli Archaeology Professors Elazar Soukenik and Benjamin Mazar succeeded in purchasing some of the most important scrolls. Many of the remaining scrolls and scroll fragments were put in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control from 1949 to 1967. After Israel took control of the area in 1967, the scrolls were moved to the Jerusalem Museum, in the Shrine of the Book Museum, where they reside today.

Cyrus Declaration

Between the 8th-6th centuries BCE, Ancient Middle Eastern Empires, such as Assyria and Babylonia (both in modern-day Iraq), expelled nations that refused to accept their Empire’s authority and pay the imperial tax. The Hebrew People living in the Land of Israel were no exception to this rule. Over the course of the 8th century BCE, the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, who rebelled against the Assyrian Empire, were expelled from the land of Israel to Assyria. Then, in 586 BCE, the Babylonian Empire expelled most of the Hebrew People in the southern kingdom of Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the First Jewish Temple. With their kingdoms destroyed and most of the Hebrew People living in exile, the Jewish people had reached a historical nadir.

The Cyrus Cylinder at the British Museum

The Cyrus Cylinder at the British Museum

In 539 BCE, the fate of the Hebrew People began to change when Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered the Babylonian Empire. Unlike the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who believed in using harsh measures such as the threat of mass killings and expulsions to ensure loyalty to their empire, Cyrus had a different approach. Cyrus, along with his successors, believed in giving autonomy to their subjects. This autonomy allowed the peoples of the empire freedom to contribute money to their temples and the ability to live and practice their own religions freely. The subjects’ obligations towards the Persians were limited to remaining loyal to the empire, contributing imperial taxes, and participating in military service when and if necessary.

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