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An Introduction to Jewish Culture

Luminaries such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chaim Potok, Albert Einstein, Abraham Heschel, Isaac stern, Levi Strauss, Aaron Copland, Bob Dylan, and many others have been major figures in the past hundred years in American history. Jews came to America as early as the 17th century, and Hebrew was a foundational language required at Harvard.

Governor of Massachusetts William Bradford owned a beginning Hebrew book, inscribed with his name and date. The Liberty Bell had an inscription in Hebrew from Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to the inhabitants."

Judaism developed in America into three main branches: Orthodox, Reformed (liberal), and Conservative Judaism. Today, about half of all the Jews in America have no membership in a Jewish synagogue, and it is possible that of all Jews attending synagogue, half are conservative. The conservative movement continues to enjoy growth. The Orthodox Jews, some 20% of all Jews in America, maintain firm support since the State of Israel was established in 1948 and made Orthodox Judaism the official religion.

One of the first clear responses non-Jews should have is to be sensitive and alert to any form of anti-Semitism directed towards anyone Jewish or of Jewish ancestry. Jews came to America, fleeing pogroms, WWII, as well as many other forms of persecution experienced in Europe and other parts of the world.

This persecution also led many Jews to establish the State of Israel in Palestine in 1948, which had become a matter of life and death (in the Jews' minds) as they fled for their very lives.

Eretz Israel (the land of Israel), in a very real sense became the modern spiritual, religious, and political birthplace for the Jews. The Jews had been homeless since the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 70 A.D. and they had been forced from their homes. Having their own land gave the Jews status as members of the world community of nations, with "land" being the key word.

Land is part of the Biblical covenant (the Christians Bible and the Jews' Torah) between God and Abraham, the first of the three Patriarchs of the Jews. Understanding the covenant regarding the land as the basis for both religion and politics informs the non-initiated what all the battles are all about between the Israeli's, Palestinians, and their neighboring countries.

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