Why are We Here?

Jewish girl in Tel-Aviv


Recently, while traveling through the US, I’ve met a man on the train. We started to talk and when he heard that I’m Israeli, he asked me a question. “What are you Jews doing there?” This is an answer to that man.

It all began when my grandfather lost a war. He fought for independence, for the right to live his life freely on the land of his forefathers. He knew that chances are small; he knew that the enemy is strong and merciless; he knew the meaning of defeat. And yet he stood and fought, because sometimes you have to make a stand and that was such a time.

It was two thousand years ago, in a land named Judea. We rose to bring down the Roman tyranny, to crush the rule of the emperors over our hills. We did our best, but we’ve lost. Twice. First in the Great Revolt of the first century, when Jerusalem was ruined, and then in the Second Revolt of the second century, when the Romans torched the land and left nothing alive behind them. The Empire was too strong for us. And when they came, they destroyed everything. They burnt cities and villages, they slaughtered entire communities, they made us slaves. The people of Judea, my people, went to exile and only Hadrian’s legions walked through the empty land.

It was then, on the ruins of Judea, when they decided to erase the very memory of our existence. So they changed the land’s name, bringing forward an ancient word. It was the name of another place, of another people, long forgotten even in 135 AD, when they celebrated the death of Judea. They called it “Palestina”.

And my family, my tribe, had to find its way through the centuries. My ancestors, my tribesmen, scattered all over the world. We lived in Gaul and in China, in Morocco and on both sides of the Caucasus ridge. We walked on the plains of India and built homes in Russia’s frozen forests. We established communities in Argentina and taught our children Hebrew in Yemen. We fought in different armies for different rulers and their different agendas. We ploughed fields and wrote books. We were hated and we were admired. We were slaughtered in Mainz and we rebelled in Warsaw. We sailed the seas and crossed deserts. We saw history passing by.

Jewish woman in Yemen

And we never forgot. Never. We named children after our ancient heroes, prophets and kings. We celebrated the year cycle of our distant land. We prayed in the language of the Hebrew people, our people. We pointed the direction of Jerusalem to the little ones, knowing that they will point it to their own children one day. We knew that we are one tribe, one family, that Syrian Jews and Belgian Jews are the same, and only by chance one lives in Brussels and the other in Haleb. We never forgot and we waited to return to our hills.

And now we are back. And my home stands on a hill in Jerusalem, maybe the same one that my grandfather came from, two thousand years ago. I walk through the cradle of my nation, surrounded by ancient stories and songs. And around me there are many people, many faces, many languages. Some came from NY, some from Bagdad. Someone’s parents came from Poland and someone’s grandparents from Honduras. One came from New Delhi and the other, like me, from Kiev. But we are all one, one tribe, coming back to his holy ground, gathering together one more time in Jerusalem, in Israel, in the Middle East. And it seems as if finally we defeated the Roman Empire.

It was a long walk, but it led us home.

And that is why we are here.

Sunset in Jerusalem



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23 responses to “Why are We Here?

  1. Unapologetic Zionist

    If I may play a devil’s advocate… So what that we had a country 2000 years ago. We lost the war. Twice. Move on. History has seen countless peoples that once existed and are now nothing but a distant memory. So, what makes us so special? Why are we insisting that this land is ours if it hasn’t been ours for 2 millennia?

    • Because in a way – we never left. Because wherever we went, we took the memory of the land with us. Children heard stories about it before they learned to read. They could draw a map being a thousand miles away from it. Because in every one of the cities of the exile Jewish people dreamt about the day of our return, prayed that one day they will see Jerusalem rebuilt. Because throughout history our elders came here to die, to be buried at the Olive Mount, observing the place where the Temple once stood. Because in our faith this is a land where our forefathers spoke with God, where there is a connection between heaven and earth. Because in recent generations all those dreams became action.

      All those people – the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Scythians and the Romans – they forgot. Wars, disasters and time made them disappear, fade into history. They adopted new names, new definitions, new traditions. Their idea got lost. We didn’t. We struggled to keep ours and paid a price for it. We remained a tribe – something that is more than an idea, a biological being, a family. And as any tribe – we had our land. Somewhere in the distance. So far, but so familiar.

      An outsider may say that this is not enough. But here we disagree. Here we stand, and after so many years say a simple word – “no”. It took us a while to learn it, but eventually we did. We are a tribe coming back. You may disagree, but we are still coming. Because for us there is no other place. Because for us – this is home.

    • Yeah, yeah, that was me. Just to elaborate I delneitify consider myself a super-Zionist and probably know more about Israeli history and modern politics than the average Israeli. My modern orthodox education in the US also taught me probably more Israeli and Jewish literature and poetry than most Israelis learn.The bottom line is that Zionism is a Jewish homeland. Zionism is not modern day Israeli culture. I don’t have to like anything about the ways Israelis act, speak, laugh or line up to buy popcorn in movie theaters.

  2. Beautifully written, beautifully said and truly inspiring.

  3. Tasha

    We have a right to be there because entire nation refused to surrender, give up and forget. For 2000 years. Never languishing desire to get the land back and focus on this desire (interlaced within the prayers, stories, songs) made it a reality. Nothing’s stronger than human’s desire. Human’s desire plus remembering times the amount of men of the highly creative due to constant need of survival tribe. It’s a quite simple math.

  4. Boris, I agree with everyone who commented about how beautiful this post is! The really sad part is that despite the many things the Jewish people have given the world (often warranting Nobel prizes, legacies & international acclaim), we must still justify our existence & claim to Israel, our homeland.

  5. Yashar Koach, my friend. Very well said.

  6. Напоминает речи “русских патриотов” )) державность она такая – заразная.
    “Эта земля была наша, пока мы не увязли в войне
    Она умрет если будет ничьей, пора вернуть эту землю себе”

  7. Riyaz

    Boris, Being tortured does not give right to torture back innocent people. If jews had been thrown out of their homes then it does not give them right to throw others from their home. In past, jews were persecuted and its shame but how Israel is using history to do the same to others is more shameful and inhuman. Its not fair and justifiable. Jerusalem is place of three faiths and sons of Abraham. Peace in that region can only prevail by coexistence. You cant expect people love you at the same time pouring bombs and chemicals on them. Holocaust was an ugly truth of past, and Gaza seize and illigal settlement are of today. Learn to understand that Jerusalem is equally sacred and home to Muslims and Christians as to you.

    • Unapologetic Zionist

      Dear Riyaz,
      I am a bit confused. Are you really giving comparing deliberate extermination of entire ethnicity to the Gaza’s and Judea and Samaria arabs condition now?
      Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t hear that Nazis provided 15 tons of humanitarian aid every week to the Jews. Nor did I not see any evidence of luxury shopping malls and hotels that were built and open in the Warsaw ghetto.
      Of course, you do realize that out if the whole territory of Judea abs Samaria, the Jews live on less than 2% of the land. The land where the Jewish nation started. The land where our forefathers are buried. And I’m sure you are aware that Arab economy in the territories is booming.
      Oh, about Jerusalem. Hate to break it to you, but Jerusalem has no significance to Muslims. Muslims pray facing away from J’lem, towards Mecca. The fairy tale of it’s holiness in Islam is just that– a fairytale.

      It is time for the Arab population of Israel to grow up and take responsibility for their lives. Is Israel perfect? No, it is not. What country is? But it is Israel that has absorbed both jewish and non Jewish refugees from the Arab countries. There were over 800,000 Jews expelled from the Arab world. Now they and their children are full members of society. What happened to Arab refugees? They are purposefully being exploited by their Arab bretheren with one purpose only. And I’m sure you are fully aware of that purpose, aren’t you?

      • Riyaz

        Dear fellow human being,
        You might be wrong getting it but I was not when I compare those two things. If you counting the figures then yeah jews were more but I was comparing the conditions of jews under Nazi rule and Arabs under Israel. How can you justify if someone bulldoze your house, throw you on the road, ruin your entire life, and when you got nothing left then provide you food and say eat and live in this condition or left the area. When you pelt stone on those bulldozers, then you’re millitants. When you shout on intruders, you’re terrorist. Tell me what you’ll do or say in this case. Gaza is under complete seize. Their hospitals,schools,homes, everything was bombarded and then white phosphorus. You’re biased if you dont see it as a concentration camp. And do you think giving on & off food supply can justify this? Why Israel take revenge from Arabs of what was done to jews by Romans and Nazis?
        And my dear, your forefathers are also buried in Europe and America. Does it give you right to expel people and claim the land from current inhabitants. And if you stick to this land than its not only you whose forefathers are buried here but Christians and Muslims too. You have to draw line in history somewhere. Its all belief my dear which you termed as ‘Fairy Tale’. I have my own believes. even I dont believe what others do but I respect their believes. Muslims used to worship facing Al-aqsa before Mecca and still that place is as holy for them as to you.
        Hate to tell you but Zionism is sheer Fanatism. I am not antisemitic but anti-Zionist, just because its hatred towards other races and religions. Why Israel cant settle in the area given to it 60 years back? Why illigal settlements?
        Finally, refugees have always got exploited irrespective of their religions. But my questions is why such thing happen? Why they are forced to become refugees?
        Anyway, whether you agree or not but I still hope that someday peace will prevail in that area and people will be back to their home.

        • Unapologetic Zionist

          The Fact that you are reading Cafe Damascus is really a remarkable thing. I applaud you.
          Of course, you and I won’t agree on pretty much anything, but perhaps you’d consider at least watching/reading this short article

          Good luck to you!
          Homo Sapient

          • Riyaz

            Yeah, you wont agree with me. I cant fill a single drop in a glass upside down no matter gallons of water is poured. One has to have an open mind to see beyond self, beyond his/her community. True spirit of belonging is not supporting your community even if its unfair to others but to make them realize what’s fair. Please try to be human, dont just call yourself human.
            Good luck to you too… Riyaz

  8. Farheen

    Very inspiring! I realy was interested in the whole conflict & your piece gave me some ideas. But as a concerned citizen of the world – my question is how can we resolve the conflict & establish peace without violence? It was the Romans & the Nazis who tortured you before not the Muslims. How do you guys see that? I am just curious.

  9. As Lenny said, beautifully written !

    With love, from Morocco.

  10. ChildofAbraham

    Well written, but I was a bit surprised that you started with the history of 2000 years ago, when the name of Israel, and also Judea (variation of Judah) are much older and significant! You mention Jewish heroes, prophets, and Kings and prayer in the Hebrew language, but no mention of the Book that describes those people and uses that language? Why did you not mention the reason that the Hebrew people came to “the promised land” in the first place? Yes, you are a tribe, but your tribe is unique for much more important reasons than your ties to the land of Judea. You are the tribe who carried monotheism to the world, because the Lord God Almighty called Abram to leave Ur (in Mesopotamia) and go to the land of Canaan, and promised that through his descendants “all the nations of the world would be blessed”. God renamed Abram, Abraham. From Abraham came Isaac and Ishmael, and from Isaac came Jacob and Esau. Jacob was renamed Israel by the same God, and had twelve sons (who became twelve tribes, one of them named Judah). They went to Eqypt because of a famine. After a time, they were enslaved by Pharaoh, but the God of the Hebrews revealed his name to Moses as “I am that I am”, YHWH, from which is derived “Hallelujah”, which means “Praise the LORD”; YHWH told Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and gave him the Law (Ten Commandments) at Mt. Sinai. Joshua led the Hebrews to conquer Canaan and fulfill the promises of God to Abraham. From Judah’s lineage, came both King David and Jesus Christ. The world’s three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are all built from the foundation of Abraham and the promises of God to him. Your people have been the blessing to the world that God promised. HalleluJAH, indeed!

  11. Juvee

    You forgot the bit where there were already real live human beings living in your holy land when u am and they were kicked out and displaced and still remain so. And also that Israelites ‘the oh so oppressed people’ are now destroying towns and villages and massacring entire communities of Palestinians. There are not enough words that will adequately describe how I feel about israeli tyranny, double standards and hypocrisy. I just wait for the day when they will have to stand before God and answer to Him. And then we’ll see just how ‘special’ these people are in His sight.

  12. mostafa

    excuse me when we “muslims” came to jerusalem there were jews and christians living there and they welcomed muslims. and as muslim i can say the religion for the god and the land for all.and many of your grand fathers converted to islam .now most of the people there are muslims. and you used to live with us in peace because of our creed that preventing us from persecuting others ,instead of you ,you established your own country in our land and you made it for jews only and you are persecuting others .believe me your dream of israel will end so soon .just prepare yourselves because we are coming.

  13. marat

    Sorry to dissapoint you but you may come anytime and anywhere – it is your own problem, but you know there is an old saying if you come with the sword be prepared to die by the sword- may be we are only 5-6 millions but we are tested by the history -the only test that never lies – all others ancient peoples where they are know – forgotten disappeared , lost by the wind . We were in tyoo many wars and has seen too many things so find something else to make us fear if you can, till now and I mean 63 years since independence of Israel, you have tried many times and ended with what with a kick in the ass, so come for another one we are ready

  14. Tova

    You’re not even that Semitic at all… Africans are even more Semitic than you. Just a bunch of white ‘Israelite’ imposters from Russia. The Israelite race was Semitic only! Arabs today are still completely Semitic according to DNA, you aren’t… it’s proven only 14-19% of Ashkenazi and Sephardic haplogroup DNA is of a ‘Semitic’ origin, whereas Palestinian and Syrians are 56% and above directly descended from the Semitic races of the Holy Land, PROVEN! An example of ‘right of return’: Does that mean that people from Australian convict descent that were forcefully taken from the U.K to Australia can just invade U.K and say they’re coming back and to get out, no, another hypocritical example. I don’t even know why Christian’s defend Zionism, the Jews were never on the side of their main prophet, Jesus. Even Muslims revere Jesus, This whole idea to steal Palestine from the Arabs was a retarded, racist concept. The U.N was mainly comprised of Western, White nations bribed by Jews in America to vote yes for Israel and the first prime minister of Israel instigated the King David Hotel bombing to drive out the British, which killed both Brits and Arabs alike and the guy gets a ‘nobel peace prize’ for it…. what a joke, the whole Zionist tyranny upon the world is a joke and people are so ignorant thanks to them also… Yes, the holocaust did happen, however the numbers up and down too much to be definitive and that gives the Jews no right to kill another people, the Palestinians, who had nothing to do with it just for their selfish greed for land and money which they use to brainwash their people in fanaticism and teach their children to hate Christians and Muslims, and yet ‘act friendly’ to at least the Christian nations, seen as their cattle. This is the plague infecting the world today. And yes, i sadly descend from some ‘Illuminati families’ including the Crusader ‘Kings and Queens of Jerusalem’… but at least i can see what’s in front of me.

  15. Misha

    Dear Tova,
    As i read your comment, a cold chill went through my spine.
    I have seen those words before, in history books…
    While reading the response of Riyaz gave me some hope, a door, not locked, to a dialog. Your comment could be the definition of modern antisemitism. (or, specially for you, “antijewism”) It has all the elements of it: a. Vague “proven” scientific facts, written with capital letters. ( according to which study?!?! i don’t remember my DNA being taken…) b. Religious – of course, we killed Jesus, we also use the blood of christian children to make Matza… c. Jewish greed – we’ve bribed the UN to accept us as a country. d. And last but not least – “This is the plague infecting the world today”. I assume that, in your eyes, nuclear Iran might just be the cure…

    I do have to thank you though, it was the best motivator and reminder to why i serve in the reserves of I.D.F. i think it’ll keep me going for another 10 years.
    To others who read this, don’t get me wrong, i don’t claim us right in all the aspects of this debate. We are often not fair towards the Palestinians. Not nearly as much as the Arab world, but also quite often.
    The way to peace in the part of the land called Israel (Israel the biblical land is bigger than Israel the modern country) that is inhabited with the country Israel (with mainly Jewish and some Arab, Christian, Druze, Adyghe and other citizens) and the people who call themselves as Palestinians (not citizens of Israel the country) will cost us many concessions, both ideological and of territory.
    There is just one thing, before we can give up anything for establishment of another country in this small piece of land, we must be sure that tomorrow won’t bring us another (7th) war with our close neighbors. (I am not counting the gulf war and the wars with Palestinians and Hezbalah)
    The borders of Israel today were drawn by 3 wars (out of 6) and two peace agreements. We don’t want another one. While we might not have a choice when it comes to Iran, we certainty have one on the Palestinian front.
    If you live in Jerusalem, i would gladly meet and discus the matter.

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