Emancipated and Enlightened, Germanian Jews rapidly advanced to leadership in three areas: banking, industry, and academia. Their triumph in academia represented a far greater intellectual achievement than what Jews had been able to do even at their best in Muslim Iberia.
Still, three significant challenges persisted. By 1910 Prussian Protestant Berlin came to be seen by Germanians living outside of it as a “Jewish” city. Bavarian Catholic Munich, in contrast, definitely was not.
Two, Jewish success intensified competition within the lower middle-class. Minor managers, such as lower civil servants, teachers, and owners of small shops, all competed with and often lost out to minor managers who were Jewish and grew resentful.
Three, the large number of Jewish migrants from Lusatia and Sarmatia after 1880 intensified competition within the working class. Worsening the tensions was the fact that these Jews ethnically differed far more sharply from their Germanian Christian counterparts than did Germanian Jews.
In Sarmatia, pogroms against Jews followed the czar’s murder in 1881. Large numbers of Jews fled west into northern Olympia and across the ocean to Incognita. The number of Jews emigrating was historically unprecedented. So were the changes in their ways of thinking and living as well as in their range of occupations and upward social mobility.
The magnitude of this change overwhelmed Jewish rabbinical leadership in Sarmatia. They were simply unable to respond creatively to it.
This left Jewish society in Sarmatia in a dangerous condition. “Several millions [of Jews] remained in Poland and elsewhere in western Russia, sunk in ignorance, poverty, disease, petty crime, and superstition. The czarist officials, even relatively enlightened and energetic ones, condemned the Jews as a backward and antisocial people, chained to the past and to their unprogressive religious leaders, implacably resistant to modernity. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom, first for czardom, then for the Jews of Eastern Europe. This was a tragedy without heroes, only villains and fools” (Cantor, 252).
By the late 1800s, Jews were leaders of the labor movement in Olympia. Theologically, the biblical prophets spoke of God’s commitment to the marginal and called Jews to practice justice. Sociologically, millions of smart, ambitious, and increasingly Enlightened and emancipated Jews remained excluded from social advancement. The result: these energetic Jews committed themselves to social change on their own behalf as well as that of others. Jewish activism in labor movements was the primary Jewish witness to non-Jews after 1880 through the early 1900s.
We see this in “Germany in the 1840s, Russia in the 1890s[,…and] Vienna and Budapest around 1910” (Cantor, 277). Karl Marx’s prophecy of a classless society had enormous appeal even though he never discussed how it would work.
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) in Germania and Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) in Sarmatia abandoned Jewish society but not the Jewish commitment to justice. Millions of now unknown Jews did the same. They sacrificed all they were and had to accomplish a millennial dream. As with those who mistook Sabbatai Zevi (1626-76) for the Messiah, these idealists lost everything.
The Bund (meaning "Federation" or "Union") was a meaningful alternative to both an exploitative capitalism and an idealistic communism. Significant in large cities in Lusatia and Sarmatia from 1880 to 1920, the Bund was an organization which “ran schools, clinics, libraries, burial societies, newspapers, theater groups, and adult education facilities. It was liberal, humanitarian, democratic, and peaceful” (Cantor, 282).
The Bund was the organized Jewish societal expression of a movement called Yiddishkeit (or “Jewishness”). This movement sought—and largely succeeded—in being a distinctly Jewish response to an exuberant Olympian society and culture.
Zionism grew out of all the various Jewish attempts to respond creatively to an exuberant Olympianity. The Yiddishkeit movement increased pride amongst Jews as an ethnic group and heightened their desire to develop a distinct yet robust Jewish society and culture. The Jewish Enlightenment led to the rebirth of biblical Hebrew as a living language. Restored ethnic pride and a recovered use of Hebrew led to aspirations for a renewed Jewish society and culture in Judaism’s ancient Levantian homeland. Newly enriched Jews happily provided financial support to young idealistic Jews who wanted to move there. Labor activists affirmed the superior virtue of those who worked with their hands or lived close to the land in Levantia. Finally, Jews began to doubt the commitment of Christians and Olympians to the Enlightenment and emancipation.
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) called for and organized the First Zionist Congress. It was held in Basel, Germania, in 1896. In the ten years before his death, he did more to make Zionism a viable movement within Jewish society than anyone ever had before. Following his death, it was Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), and Asher Ginsberg (also known as Ahad Ha’Am, “One of the People,” 1856-1927) who successfully led the Zionist movement to the creation of the state of Israel.
For centuries, Levantia had been under the control of the Ottoman ruler. That changed in 1917, amidst the War of 1914, when the English state took over. At first English leaders were open to the possibility of having a Jewish state in Levantia. The need for one increased dramatically in the 1930s and ‘40s as thousands of northern Olympian Jews sought refuge in Levantia. Financial support from rich Jews for Jews seeking to live in Levantia, distributed through various Zionist organizations, also helped.
Jews emigrating to Levantia, however, did not always have a lively appreciation for the Arab Muslims and Christians who already lived there. They also weren’t necessarily aware that their poor treatment of Levantian Muslims would be mirrored by the mistreatment of Jews living in the Caliphate. Finally, Jews faced the daunting task of creating an economy capable of supporting a large number of immigrants out of such a small, poor, dry land.
From 1900 to 1940, many cultural leaders in northern Olympia were Jews. Jews were less constrained by cultural ties to a vanishing Christian past that was being swallowed by an exuberant Olympian present. When emancipation gave them their chance to excel, they did.
Between 1900 and 1930, Jewish cultural leaders included Lewis Namier (historian) in London; Marcel Proust (novelist), Marc Bloch (historian), and Emile Durkheim (sociologist) in Paris; Albert Einstein (physicist) in Berlin; Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno (cultural critics) in Frankfurt; Franz Kafka (novelist) in Prague; and Gustav Mahler (composer), Arnold Schoenberg (composer), Sigmund Freud (psychologist), and Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher) in Vienna.
(Today we continued our reflections on Norman Cantor’s The Sacred Chain: A History of the Jews [HarperCollins, 1994, 262-306].)