The story of the Jews in America begins with the migration of just 24 Sephardic Jews

How did the Jews in America acquire decisive power over its government in just 30 years from the end of WW2 in 1945? They have obviously triumphed over 2,000 years of hatred, if not persecution, in most of the lands where they had put down roots. Probably the first answer that comes to mind is money: They controlled banks, Wall Street, and all European centers of power.  But my question is how did this drastic change in fortunes happen? Just how? Apparently, 30 years that saw the establishment of Israel.

Another answer might come to mind: European guilt consciousness favored the Jews and created Israel to maybe atone for the greatest catastrophe the world had ever seen in the gassing of millions of human beings during the Holocaust. It is true, there is no equivalent of genocide in history on a mass scale. But guilt consciousness alone simply does not answer the question as to how the Jews in America came to exercise effective power at ALL levels in America, and Europe, too, sometimes. (British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was a Jew in the 19th century, and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is Jewish.)  

Another answer could be, and it might be closer to the truth, that assimilation into the culture of the ruling elites makes it possible for ambitious men and women of the minority culture to get to the top, but always underpinned by values esteemed by one and all: Power. What plays a decisive role is not just land and money, but sometimes talent, too.  Not only Zelensky of Ukraine comes to mind, but also Ronald Reagan, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, and N.T. Rama Rao, film heroes of South Indian states of recent past. Why leave out Imran Khan of Pakistan?

Talent being exceptional, we must ponder whether the possession of money alone explains the power the Jewish Americans exercise. Clearly, the Chinese billionaires and the Russian billionaires today cannot and do not exercise the power that the Jews wield as a community in Washington. It is much much more than money. Yet the fact remains that those who broke the barriers and rose to the top are known for their ethnic or minority origins. That makes attributes other than wealth more significant in the attainment of power, collective power.

The story of the Jews in America begins with the migration of just 24 Sephardic Jews — those from Spain — from Brazil to the shores of New York City in the 18th century. They established a congregation and stuck to their beliefs and rituals. The temple they built still stands in New York and is open,  according to Steven Weisman, author of “The Chosen War Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion”, 2018.

As millions of Germans and Spaniards migrated to the New World, mixed with them were the Jewish communities of Amsterdam and London, both great shipping and commercial hubs. The Syrians and Lebanese, too, migrated in large numbers to the new American colonies, especially Brazil.

What’s regarded, at least in the West, as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment period that began roughly around 1750 not only did not pass by the Jewish intellectuals, some of them were leaders of it. During this period, great minds pretty much shaped the Western world, starting from Voltaire and Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud down to Einstein and Frank Kafka.

It is important to remember that the Jewish religion from antiquity had assigned a very special role to rabbis, grassroots community leaders who lived with and guided their flocks in all the ways important to being a Jew:

Kosher kitchen, observance of Sabbath on Saturdays, veneration of the Torah, and its many volumes of Talmud with its 600 or so written laws that covered all possible actions of an individual life. Circumcision and the coming of age ceremony,  bar mitzvah for boys, and observance of the Seder were all part of Jewish life everywhere.

The Muslim scholars or ulema do not come close to the responsibilities rabbis have always had. Any Jewish man migrating to a new place was expected to find a partner within a congregation with whom to explore the Jewish history and philosophy, and the meanings of the Torah. The Jewish scriptures, or the Old Testament, have been culled for meanings over thousands of years by the rabbis. It is the source of some 600 laws recorded in what is known as the Talmud.

Rabbis apply the Talmudic wisdom to matters great and small. So it is that Jews who wanted to live a moral life in accordance with the teachings of the Talmud, turn to the rabbi and ask: What guidance will Talmud have to a particular family situation, or to a larger problem? “What does the Talmud say now, Rabbi, in light of all this new knowledge”? It is assumed that the meanings change.

It is utterly important to find guidance in the Talmud in light of totally new circumstances. Which of the laws would be found to be inoperative, and which other law is applicable? That’s the question for a rabbi. He has to wrestle with the reasoning process, induction, and deduction. Collectively, the rabbis would decide what changes in customs, theology, and sociology are in order. They control the gates.  The Muslim ulema comes nowhere near the rabbis in adapting to social change.

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