AJC eBook: Israel’s Triple Anniversary - Page 5

2 01 7— I SR A E L’ S T RIP LE ANNIVERSARY YEAR 3 A second Jerusalem Temple, erected in 515 BCE, functioned as the center of Jewish life for close to six centuries. Over that period Jews exercised varying degrees of self-rule under the Persians, the Syrian Greeks, the Hasmonean Jewish dynasty, and the Romans, who finally destroyed the Temple in the course of quelling a rebellion in 70 CE. Another uprising aimed at achieving independence in 135 CE met a similar fate, ending the dream of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land until modern times. Nevertheless, Jewish communities persisted over the centuries in what had been the Land of Israel under Byzantine Christian and then Muslim rule. Furthermore, the Jewish connection to the Land remained a centerpiece of Jewish religious practice even in far-flung exilic communities. The prayer book featured requests for God to “gather us from the four corners of the Earth to our land” (morning service immediately before the Sh’ma prayer); the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder ended with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem!”; the prayers for rain in the fall and dew in the spring were geared not to the agricultural calendar where most Jews actually lived, but to the seasons in Israel; and pious Jews all over the world arranged for their bodies to be buried in Israel, and, if that proved impossible, acquired small bags of Israeli earth to place in their graves. The return of sizable numbers of Jews to Israel and the establishment there of a functioning, modern Jewish community along with a revival of Jewish national culture began to be discussed in the late 19th century, as rising anti-Semitism and economic hardship convinced many European Jews that they would never achieve full equality where they lived. Jews were already the largest religious group in Jerusalem in the 1860s, and over the next few decades Jews, mostly from Russia—where a wave of pogroms beginning in the 1880s set off a large Jewish emigration—and Romania, established agricultural settlements in previously barren locations. The Zionist movement, which explicitly called for a Jewish state as the only realistic antidote to anti-Semitism, was launched by the Hungarian-born Theodor Herzl, whose 1896 publication Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) set the stage for the First Zionist Congress, which convened the next year in Basel, Switzerland, chaired by Herzl. The movement, committed to diplomatic action to secure a state, continued on its course after Herzl’s untimely death in 1904, even as its annual congresses reported little progress.