The 19th century was a time of great change in how people began to see their world. Charles Darwin’s research had been extrapolated to not only define the evolution of animals and humans, but also the development of a society. Social Darwinism gave a predominately white, Christian European society the crutch to look at those in other countries as primitive races in need of guidance by the “fittest race”. These principles also impacted living conditions in those living in Europe who held different religious beliefs. Social Darwinism had now reared its ugly head in the condemnation of Jews as inferior to Christians.
Jews in Europe encountered various degrees of anti-Semitism which is discrimination, hostility, or hate-based solely on their Judaism. Russia and Romania were hotbeds for such persecution going to such extremes as forcing Jews to reside in the ghetto and face constant unrestrained torment. Faced with such opposition to their beliefs many began to seek acceptance. They began to assimilate into a predominately Christian society through many avenues such as marriage into Christian families or conversion into a new religion. Others refused to change their religious hierarchy felt their only outlet was to leave their homes in search of religious autonomy. Many Jews saw their only chance of surviving as to leave their homes or abandon their beliefs.
During this time the Ukrainian physician Leon Pinsker wrote a pamphlet entitled Auto-Emancipation to highlight the struggles that Jews were facing in Europe. His argument was that no matter how they tried to assimilate into European society; they would never be fully accepted. A conversion would not eliminate the deep-seated hatred felt by so many. He capitalized on the common suffering experienced by many Jews and offered them an alternative. Leave the life that was filled with limitations and migrate to a new place. The migration began to take hold and Jews began a slow exodus to Palestine. While Pinsker did not believe this was an ideal location in light of current persecution it seemed that any alternative was better than the discrimination many were suffering.
Pinsker’s writings inspired a writer in Paris who had seen firsthand and felt the harsh reality of anti-Semitism in his own life. Theodor Hazel read and absorbed Pinsker’s thoughts and began to develop his own strategy to help his people. He wrote The Jewish State which did not simply suggest a migration away from the source of torment, but the formation of a Jewish nation-state. This goal, known as Zionism, would not be easily attained. He began seeking out financial investors, technical assistance, and possibilities on a political infrastructure.
The wealthiest Jews were those that had successfully assimilated themselves into modern society. They dismissed Hazel’s ideas as the foolish talk of a delusional man. Relying mainly on the support of those with less than stellar financial portfolios he was eventually successful in establishing the First International Zionist Congress. The result of this meeting was an endorsement of the already slow migration into Palestine.
By 1914, the Palestinian population was increased exponentially with the addition of eighty-five thousand Jews. They had, through the vision of two men, begun to establish their own society far removed from the oppression they once faced in their former homes. While the political climate in the region in which they are settled has been anything but stable, they remain bonded by their common struggle and belief in their way of life. Strengthened by numbers and united by the commonality of their fight, the Jewish people remain in the Palestinian area to this day, a modern reminder of our world’s refusal to accept a minority religious view.
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