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A Two-Page History of the Jewish People

C. 1250 BCE: approx. date of exodus from Egypt.  Israelites established in Palestine region.

C. 900 BCE: Israelite kingdom with capital at Jerusalem.  First Temple built 

586 BCE: destruction of First Temple, rebuilt in next century. 

After 400 BCE: text of Jewish Bible (AOld Testament@) reaches final form; much of it had originally been composed earlier

70 CE: Romans destroy Second TempleBend of Jewish state until 1948.  Jews remain in settlements throughout Roman Empire.

200-700 CE: Talmudic periodBorthodox Jewish law written down.  Main center of Jewish life is in Babylonia (present-day Iraq)

900-1492: Spain becomes main center of Jewish life.  Spanish Jews known as ASephardim.@  Wealthy community integrated into both Muslim and Christian Spanish society until Ferdinand and Isabella expel all Jews in 1492.  Sephardi Jews take refuge in Ottoman Empire and North Africa

C. 1000-1770: AJewish Middle Ages@ in northern and central Europe.  Jews in these countries, known as AAshkenazim,@ lead precarious existence, tolerated but confined to specialized occupations and subject to special taxes and restrictions.  Ashkenazim develop own language, Yiddish, related to German but written in Hebrew characters.  They suffer periodic upsurges of anti-Jewish violence, esp. at time of first Crusades (around 1100) and of Black Death (1347-48).  German cities Mainz, Worms, Speyer remembered as A3 cities of martyrdom@ after massacres in 1095-96; Jews expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306.  As Jews are driven out of western Europe, many find refuge in Poland, where local kings encourage settlement for economic reasons.  Despite wave of massacres in 1640s-50s, Poland becomes largest Jewish center.  Jewish revival movement (Hasidism) starts in southern Poland, c. 1740.

1770-1870: AAge of Emancipation@: small Jewish communities in western Europe and North America gain legal and civil rights, at price of giving up special communal privileges.  Jews in these countries seek assimilation, identifying with majority society in hopes of acceptance.  Movement of AJewish Enlightenment@ (Haskalah) criticizes traditional religion and cultureBcalls for Jews to abandon Yiddish for Hebrew and national languages.

1870-1933: Rapid changes in Jewish life.  Increased persecution of Jews in Russian Empire leads to mass migration of Eastern European Jews to United States, western Europe, 1880-1914: American community becomes world=s largest.  Rising antisemitism in Europe sparks formation of Zionist movement (1896) with goal of creating Jewish homeland in Palestine; leading European powers endorse idea (Balfour Declaration, 1917).  Small Jewish settlements created in Palestine from 1880s onward.  Jews in western countries (U.S., England, France, Germany) able to move into more occupations and public positions, but their successful assimilation produces more vocal antisemitism. One sign is American immigration law of 1924, designed to cut off new arrivals.  Jews in eastern Europe attracted to radical movements (Zionism, socialism, Communism).

1933:  Hitler comes to power in Germany, imposes harsh restrictions on Jews there.  Jews deprived of citizenship and forbidden to marry non-Jews (1935); destruction of synagogues and confiscation of Jewish businesses (1938).

1939:  Start of World War II.  German occupation of Poland puts largest European Jewish community under their control.

1941:  Germany invades Soviet Union.  Large-scale massacres of Jews begin.

1942:  Opening of death camps in eastern Europe; killing of Jews in countries outside of war zone begins.

1945:  Germany defeated by combined forces of Soviet Union, Britain and US.  Jewish casualties during Holocaust estimated at between 5 and 6 million; perhaps 100,000 survivors found in German camps.

1947:  United Nations votes to partition Palestine, creating Jewish and Arab states.

1948:  Independence of Israel proclaimed (14 May 1948).  Victory in war against invading Arab armies safeguards new state but creates Palestinian refugee population.

1961:  Eichmann trial in Israel publicizes major events of Holocaust

1967:  “Six-Day War” against three neighboring Arab states:  Israel gains control of West Bank and Gaza territories, Sinai peninsula.  US Jewish population shifts to closer identification with Israel.  Intensified harassment of Jews in Soviet Union, continuing through 1970s and 1980s.

1973: “Yom Kippur War”:  Egypt and Syria stage surprise attack on Israel, showing instability of situation resulting from 1967 war.

1979: Camp David accord:  first peace treaty between Israel and neighboring Arab state (Egypt).  Broadcast of American tv miniseries Holocaust in Germany sparks widespread debate about responsibility.

1989-91:  Collapse of Soviet Union allows many members of world’s third-largest Jewish community to emigrate to Israel, US and western Europe

1993:  Opening of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shows new degree of public recognition of Jewish identity in US; Oslo agreement between Israel and Palestinians raises hope for settlement of Mideast conflict.

2000:  Oslo agreements break down; new cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence starts.  First openly Jewish candidate for national office in US presidential elections.

Centers of Jewish life today:  approx. 5 million Jews in US, 4.5 million in Israel, 1-2 million in former Soviet Union, 500,000 in France, 60,000 in Germany, 8000 in Poland.