It started soon after dawn as a Philo-Semitic waking dream; a minor fantasy teaching us to value what we have. By late morning it became the fully conscious nightmare of a second Shoah and how it might come to pass.
As I woke too early and went back to sleep, it began to unfold. One spring morning in the year 1500 A.D., European Christians awoke to find that the Jews had vanished in a single night; not just a few but all of them. Jewish homes were found empty apart from furniture too heavy to shift, and many former residents left notes telling the milkman to cancel his deliveries; so foul play was discounted. Where there were Jewish ghettoes whole city blocks stood empty, and even the synagogues were stripped bare apart from old curtains. Not a hint was left behind of where they might have gone or why.
Over weeks to come, word percolated from other kingdoms that their Jews had vanished too. For the first time since the Romans 1500 years before, Europe was devoid of them. In months thereafter, traders and pilgrims reported that the Levant and the Holy Land had lost all their Jews in the same great mystery.
Some of the more obtuse European clerics and burghers waxed ecstatic, declaring that Almighty God had miraculously cleansed their lands of unbelievers and thus purified Christendom. The wiser wondered how life might continue without Jewish talent and knowledge, entrepreneurial energy and craftsmanship. The powerful swiftly regretted their loss of Jewish advisors and physicians, and just as importantly, their own royal court’s lack of access to modern banking. Those fortunate Gentiles who knew Jews in person fretted over where their friends and neighbours, teachers and associates might have gone, and said prayers for their safety; but the vast majority merely shrugged and got on with life. Within two generations only a few scholars and churchmen had any real knowledge of Jews at all.
Over the next half-millennium, this hypothetical Western World changed much as it did in reality with its Jewish population intact. After all, theories of the conservation of history maintain that if what did happen had somehow had not happened then something similar would have occurred anyway. Jewish Leibnitz and Gentile Newton invented the calculus almost simultaneously; were Einstein absent Bohr may have sufficed; Freud and Adler may have been covered by Jung. Drs Koch’s and Salk’s vaccines saved millions of lives, but other great scientists may have eventually done similar; had Sandy Kaufax not played baseball then someone would have replaced him.
But Jewish charity had vanished and the Gentiles could hardly miss a clinic or library or university laboratory that had never been built, or a million scholarships uninitiated and unfunded.
Similarly, the arts and humanities suffered in ways that Christendom could not appreciate; for while science and scholarship are built on accumulated knowledge, a Mahler symphony can only be the work of one. Classical music and architecture were reduced considerably and in fine art there was never a Rembrandt, a Chagall or so many blessed others. Culture suffered but nobody remembered why; there was just an empty feeling as if salt or sugar had disappeared from the table. Western academicians still taught about the Jews, of course, and their vast influence on what had ceased to be called the Judeo-Christian world, but it was not the same; those humans had vanished and taken with them an irreplaceable part of the humane.
Then in my dream, more than five centuries later the world rediscovered Jews. Early in the year 2014 a National Geographic television crew, making yet another documentary on global warming in the Amazon, inadvertently stumbled across where all the Jews had gone.
Hidden beneath the vast rain-forest canopy stood the gleaming cities of New Zion, which the Jews had begun building five hundred years before. Having read the reports of Columbus and planned quietly in private, the Jews had surreptitiously bought and built ships carefully registered under Gentile names, and then one night slipped silently away.
The 20 million population of New Zion was about one-third more numerous than Jews in the real world today, for there had been no Holocaust. Again considering the conservation of history, they made no particular advances dissimilar to what had been produced across the West. And yet their rediscovery was a revelation of enormous impact.
These strong, handsome and talented people preserved a rich culture that was in so many ways a parent of Western Civilisation and had been, for the Gentiles left behind, only the stuff of legend or university text. Christ’s own culture and faith survived as vital living traditions. The surprise of finding Jews, and their uniqueness, made their virtues shine all the brighter contrasted against the rudderless worn-out West.
A society built on philanthropy had erected vast modern hospitals and universities the likes of which the financially bankrupt Gentile nations could only dream. The rich parents of New Zion competed to marry their daughters to impoverished young scholars, as they had done in European ghettos, for education was more popular there than sport.
And that failed to include New Zion’s dazzling fine art, films, philosophy, literature, architecture and music. No cockamamie theory of visiting space-aliens could match what real richness was loosed upon an unsuspecting world.
As I rose and dressed the fantasy continued. The rest of the planet swooned in what the cover of Time magazine called Hebrewmania. Fashionable university students, from Helsinki to Austin to Capetown and Osaka, began wearing kippa skullcaps and greeting one another by calling shalom over a high-five. The Amazon best-seller list went completely Semitophilic with titles ranging from “Talmudic Tips for Raising Your Kids,” to “The Kosher Cookbook,” to the complete works of Maimonides in red leatherette collectors’ bindings. Virtually on the hour radio stations broadcast urban rappers attempting the Hatikvah, while back in their studios they tried to get their heads around Klezmer.
Western medical schools, hiring light aircraft and canoes, sent their brightest researchers to New Zion, and Ivy League universities fired three newly-appointed professors for only pretending to be Jews; all were Gentile opportunists with homemade phylacteries and phony accents.
Deprived of bagels for five centuries, Gentile gourmets put on kilos of extra weight and the smoked-salmon industry began to treble its sales year upon year. A Philadelphia corporate start-up began manufacturing a new product named cream-cheese, and within eight months joined the Fortune 500. While corned beef had also been made by the Irish and others, and pastrami seems to have been brought to Europe by the Turks, no posh dinner party was complete without kosher versions plus tasty smears of chopped liver. Goyishe matrons met at one another’s suburban homes learning to prepare dubious approximations of gefiltefish. An American household that did not serve challah bread on Friday nights was rare indeed, and the spokesman for Tyson’s Chicken publicly apologised that the nationwide shortages in supermarkets stemmed from skyrocketing demand from soup manufacturers. Experts who measure such things found vast increases in culinary-related happiness and, also, in the sale of antacid tablets.
In one of the most immediately noticeable changes, Hollywood and the television industry discovered comedy that actually made people laugh. Soon hundreds of California’s Gentile comedians and scriptwriters applied to become real-estate salesmen (as they should have in the first place).
A few backward preachers objected of course, but knowledgeable commentators sensed that Christianity grew stronger once reunited with its Jewish roots, aided no doubt when Pope Francis kissed the tarmac at the swiftly-constructed New Zion International Airport and delivered his full speech and blessing in Classical Hebrew, which but a few months before had been virtually unknown in the West. Soon, in American universities, Hebrew classes rivalled Media Studies and a few simple phrases, even on a first date, melted the heart of every undergraduate shiksa.
Eager for Jewish tourists and especially immigrants, smart countries installed airport “Fast Track” counters with complementary champagne for travellers from New Zion. Rumours were even afoot that the Saudi king was to waive the rules and invite their head rabbis to Mecca, representing the founding religion of the three Abrahamic faiths.
Then, late in 2014, the UN General Assembly unanimously declared the next year to be The International Year of the Jew; so that a few months later, when the American President punctuated his State of the Union Address with no fewer than four Jewish proverbs, all delivered in perfect Yiddish, it hardly seemed worthy of comment. “Feh!” scorned dismissive broadcasters, shrugging as Jewishly as they could manage.
By the time that I spread marmalade on a second piece of toast, my little reverie reminded me of how we take greatness and goodness for granted. Professor Walter Williams, of George Mason University, elaborated in one of his newspaper columns:
Jews are not even 1 percent of the world’s population and only 3 percent of the U.S. population, but they are 20 percent of the world’s Nobel Prize winners and 39 percent of U.S. Nobel laureates…By the way, in the Weimar Republic, Jews were only 1 percent of the German population, but they were 10 percent of the country’s doctors and dentists, 17 percent of its lawyers and a large percentage of its scientific community. Jews won 27 percent of Nobel Prizes won by Germans.
Of 13.4 million Jews worldwide today, almost half that many were murdered in the Holocaust and it is here that my reflections became unsettling. Given their importance, 13.4 million is neither a big nor a safe number.
For such a talented, virtuous and productive culture to survive, it cannot afford to lose its uniqueness by assimilation, and so Jews must remain somewhat different and to a small degree apart from everyone else. That, plus success born of respecting education, hard work and close families, helps to explain the poisonous jealousy and unjustifiable suspicions that led anti-Semites to create the Holocaust; the most efficiently horrific such atrocity, but among shamefully many over 2,000 years.
Could it erupt again? The risk remains. Despising some of God’s finest work must be akin to hating God Himself, and the potential for even such monstrous sin is ever present in Man.
Is America, a generally Philo-Semitic nation, immune? It seemed safe in 1913 Vienna, which was as civilised, tolerant and educated as anywhere has been. The Habsburg monarchs had welcomed Jews (many from Russia) for several generations; many grew rich by improving ordinary people’s lives through trade, and then many built glorious mansions and became generous patrons of the arts and education They were welcomed into High Society. But war brought harsh deprivation to Austria, defeat let Americans and indigenous ideologues end the protective monarchy, post-war inflation destroyed all salaries and savings; and at every step wicked or foolish fingers pointed at innocent Jews. Social pressures led many Gentiles to turn against their Jewish friends or remain silent until the Anschluss when the heavy persecution and confiscation began; leading to arrest, forced internment and mass slaughter as we know.
Dr Russell Kirk, in his seminal The Roots of American Order, wrote that America’s origins lay in four great cities: Jerusalem, Athens, Rome and London. Indeed Judaism, leading from Man made in the image of God, forms our core values from rigorous thought, creativity and debate to fair-play and charity, to rule of law and onwards. In this sense Judaism may be Western Civilisation’s mitochondrial DNA, the kind that passes unaltered from mother to child. That cultural double-helix binds Jew and Gentile, as well as Western agnostics and atheists who grew up unaware of its influence.
The moral imagination of Judaism is living as well as historical, but do modern Americans still learn such things? Or is Judaism, to them, merely bagels and zaftig pretty girls, a few off-colour words of Yiddish, Spielberg epics and Adam Sandler comedies? Rather than ask if American Gentiles love their Jewish countrymen, do they know why they should love and respect the faith? Not likely, for nor do they understand Christianity’s culture and faith.
Worse yet, might catastrophe, humiliation and hunger change American Gentiles as they did the Viennese and so many others over 2,000 years? Few Viennese Jews saw Anti-Semitic disaster looming because not only did they feel welcome, they were welcome, but then it changed fast. Appreciating Jews across America guarantees neither their safety nor our dependent culture. The risk of great evil remains.
Once my coffee grew cold and bitter, the next and even greater horror became apparent. Are Americans, including some Jews, inadvertently paving the way for another Holocaust?
Are many Democrats and Neo-Conservatives abandoning the rule of law, enabling or defending extra-judicial assassination by presidential degree, secret courts and limitless detention of mere suspects, and inadequately opposing the recent bureaucratic persecution of political opponents? Are they building an authoritarian culture among ignorant citizens rendered ever more frightened and compliant? Are they creating a surveillance state surpassing the best that the Gestapo could manage? Are they destroying the safeguards against another Anti-Semitic Holocaust that may now only require a great crisis and the need for a scapegoat?
Unwittingly, have they already drawn the blue-print for the next Shoah? Is the major missing ingredient only economic collapse?
Let us pray not, and pray hard.
Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.