A recent article in the Jerusalem Post extols the role of the Hebrew language (“Spreading the Hebrew word,” by Gustavo D. Perednik, January 11, 2012). Noting that “Hebrew’s influence penetrated Western civilization through words like adventure, freedom, progress and spirit,” that its influence was felt in the words and alphabets of many languages and that it has more Wikipedia entries than any language other than English, the article goes on to say that the Hebrew Bible has been translated into vastly more languages (1,850) than any other work.
In addition, the first published book in America was Psalms, in 1640, and Governor William Bradford (one of the Mayflower’s pilgrims) was a devout Hebrew learner. Hebrew was a compulsory part of the curriculum at Harvard University, and “a Hebrew teacher, Ezra Stiles, was the first president of Yale University, whose emblem is still in Hebrew,” according to the article.
Archaeological excavations have demonstrated that Israel was well established in Canaan in the late 13th century B.C. and was a significant political force and socioethnic entity to be reckoned with and that Jewish rituals, including use of the mikvah, were being practiced in that land more than 2,000 years ago. There is evidence of an exodus and other events that mesh with what we have read in the Torah.
Fast-forwarding a few thousand years, Israelis and Diaspora Jews have had a huge influence on every type of medical and scientific technology, the arts, literature and other aspects of human civilization. They are always engaged in humanitarian concerns. Israelis are the first to go to countries where disasters have occurred, saving lives and helping people to cope with post-traumatic stress disorders. There were five Jewish Nobel Prize recipients last year. One was an Israeli, and he was the tenth Israeli so honored.
Hardly a day goes by without a headline somewhere about a scientific advance by a Jew. A groundbreaking study in Jerusalem is evaluating a new therapy using a patient’s own enhanced stem cells to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A therapeutic vaccine in advanced clinical trials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, can be tailored to treat not only 90 percent of cancers, but also mega-diseases such as tuberculosis, activating and enhancing the body’s natural immune system to seek and destroy cancer cells already present, such as those lingering after cancer surgery, without causing side effects.
We can be proud of this track record, but to paraphrase the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, can we get any respect? Can we get the United Nations, various members of the media, a host of hostile neighbors and their sympathizers to acknowledge that the Jews deserve a homeland, that no more needs to be carved out of a narrow strip of land?
As we plant trees for Tu B’Shvat, let’s hope that the seeds of peace and respect can be planted in the hearts of everyone.