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The Poem That Ended Norway’s Ban on Jews

Transferred from Denmark to Sweden in 1814, Norway was granted de-facto autonomy and allowed its own constitution. The authors of this document were influenced by the Enlightenment and the animating ideals of the French Revolution and the American founding. Yet they wrote into their constitution a blanket prohibition on the immigration of Jews. A poet and political radical named Henrik Wergeland would change that. Kenneth Stevens writes:

Of all the many works that Wergeland created, his poem “Christmas Eve” is perhaps the most important—and for good reason. Because he devoted the last fifteen years of his short life to battering at this oaken door: he was determined that the clause [banning Jews] should be repealed. . ..

In “Christmas Eve” a Jew by the name of Old Jacob is wandering from place to place selling a variety of things in order to do little more than survive. It’s Christmas Eve and the weather deteriorates to such an extent that a full blizzard is raging about the old man. . . . [H]e hammers at the door of a house, and those inside wave him away, tell him in no uncertain terms that he will not find shelter with them. . . .

When Old Jacob goes back out into the storm he finds a young child, a little girl. She is one of the daughters of the family that has just sent him on his way. But the poem states that the old man is more affected by the . . . hard-heartedness they have shown him than by the bitter chill of the wind and the snowflakes. He hugs the young girl close to him as the storm worsens and the dark envelops them, but in the morning the family finds both frozen to death.

The ban was lifted in 1851, three years after Henrik Wergeland’s death.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Enlightenment, History & Ideas, Jewish-Christian relations, Norway, Poetry

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society