I am one who still tingles at anniversaries — overcome by gratitude or chastened in horror, depending on the anniversary, and, in both cases, feeling that by knowing the significance of history, I live it. The historical actors become part of my own world.
This season is one of anniversaries galore.
Three weeks ago, we had three fall in one week, then another one this week, and the biggest of all two weeks from now.
First, Oct. 31, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Beersheba during WW I. The Australians expelled from southern Palestine the Ottomans, who not only had inflicted genocide during WW I, but had kept the Jews (and everyone else) in Palestine in abject poverty for 400 years.
Second, Nov. 2, 2017, marked the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the international recognition of Zionism that made a critical difference in the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
Third, Nov. 7, 2017, marked the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, unleashing the mechanisms that would murder millions. As my friend Byron Bronstein, who knows this history much better than I, says: Russia was a nation with no history of political parties, such that when the Kerensky and comrades overthrew the tsar in February, 1917, no citizen could agree with another on a political program. Anarchy reigned. Russia was ripe for a dictatorial takeover. The Bolsheviks obliged.
These three anniversaries fell three weeks ago.
This week, Nov. 22, 2017, marks the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It shook everyone who lived through it. The country shut down for three days. Formally or informally, businesses closed. Shock or grief or both brought everything to a halt. It was non-stop television, first the chaos in Dallas, then the shocking murder of the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, by Jack Ruby, then JFK’s funeral. That riderless horse. Those boots. Backward. Jacqueline Kennedy in black. It was a black time, which created a black period in history, which in some ways — the cynicism, the assumption of disorder and violence — the country still has not overcome.
In two weeks, Dec. 11, 2017, perhaps the most momentous anniversary: the liberation of Jerusalem under the leadership of Britain’s Field Marshall Edmund Allenby. He was the first non-Muslim in centuries to control the Holy City.
He entered the city on foot, not on horseback and not in a vehicle, to show respect for the holiness of the city.
His victory was a grave setback for the Ottomans, in both morale and strategic control of Palestine.
Though dry and unaffected, his own description of the battles that led up to the conquest of Jerusalem, and of his entry into the city, exude emotion despite themselves. Here is Allenby’s description of his entry into Jerusalem, two days after it was captured.
“I entered the city officially at noon, December 11th , with a few of my staff, the commanders of the French and Italian detachments, the heads of the political missions, and the Military Attaches of France, Italy, and America.
“The procession was all afoot, and at Jaffa gate I was received by the guards representing England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, India, France, and Italy. The population received me well.
“Guards have been placed over the holy places. My Military Governor is in control with the acting custodians and the Latin and Green representatives. The Governor has detailed an officer to supervise the holy places.
“The Mosque of Omar and the area around it have been placed under Moslem control, and a military cordon of Moham-medan officers and soldiers has been established around the mosque.
“Orders have been issued that no non-Moslem is to pass within the cordon without permission of the Military Governor and the Moslem in charge.”
When I read this, here is what I see: There is no mention of any Jewish representative nor of any Jewish holy place. Nor is the ethnic or religious character of the population who “receive me well” delineated.
Over against the absence of any Jewish reference in Allenby’s memoir, there are 10 other nationalities delineated.
Allenby’s anonymous Jew of Palestine had to overcome the will of these 10 nations, and of countless other nations, not to mention the Moslem population worldwide, to secure an independent Jewish state with a capital on the very soil that Allenby liberated. Yet, within 30 short years, this anonymous Jew secured an independent state in Palestine and a capital in part of Jerusalem.
Little did Allenby foresee the future.
Not even the Balfour Declaration promised a Jewish state, only a “homeland.”
In stages, the British went back on its promise even for a Jewish homeland, by 1939 officially squeezing Jewish immigration into Palestine to a trickle.
In stages, local Arabs rioted against the Jews, by 1936 sustaining a full fledged terrorist campaign, which lasted three years.
Then, the Holocaust.
Yet, we are supposed to believe that the obstacles facing the Palestinian Arabs in establishing their own state are greater than those which faced the Jews.
The difference, of course, is that the Jews wanted a state for themselves, while the Arabs want two things: a state for themselves and no state for the Jews.
And so, 100 years after the Balfour Declaration and 100 years after Allenby liberated Jerusalem, the Jews have a state, an imperfect one, to be sure; a state divided from within and either hated or admired from without, but a state. This same 100 years has passed with the Palestinian Arabs still seeking to end the Jewish dream more than to realize their own.
Over the past 100 years, everything — and nothing — has changed.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News