A new perspective on an ancient people

Published 9:30 pm Saturday, March 15, 2014

By Kermit Hobbs

A few days ago, my wife and I returned from an 11-day trip to Israel. I’d never been there before, and I was overwhelmed by all the emotions I experienced. They were as varied as the excitement of exploring the ruins of ancient Beit She’an; the thrill of climbing the 900 feet down the Snake Path from the top of Masada; and the spiritual experience of, literally, “walking where Jesus walked.”

During this time, we got to know many wonderful people, including both those on our tour group and those we met as we traveled.

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I tried to prepare for this trip by studying the history of the land. As a history buff, I thought I knew a fair amount about Jewish history, but it never occurred to me that my studies had always been from sources outside the Jewish community.

This time, through the things I read and the people I met, I began to understand Jewish history from the perspective of those who lived it.

One day during our visit, there was a problem in our tour schedule, and Nissan, our bus driver, took advantage of that opportunity to take us to his boyhood home, where we had tea with his mother and his grown son. Nissan’s home was located in Beit Yoseph, a “moshav” (cooperative farm) that was immediately adjacent the Israeli security zone west of the Jordan River.

His house, like all the residences in the moshav, had thick exterior walls on the east side to resist bullets and shellfire, and there was an entrance to an underground bomb shelter in the yard. Nissan had grown up with the very real threat of being attacked.

One question that had puzzled me for many years was how a nation of people could preserve its identity for 2,000 years, even when they didn’t have a homeland and, indeed, were scattered throughout the world. Now I think I’ve come up with an answer. There are two factors that made this possible.

First is the fact that the Jews were among the first nations to have a single God, and they have a clearly written Law that they (and I) believe was given to them by God 35 centuries ago. Through their history, they have rarely sought to conquer other lands.

Their interest was, and is, to be left alone to live in the land they believe God gave them. Even the Romans who conquered them 2,000 years ago found that managing them was a handful.

The other influence is external. It began with the world’s blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. The Jews became a nation of outcasts and were driven from their homeland.

They survived by clinging to their heritage as they, like our friend Nissan, endured the prejudices of the world. It was not only the Jews themselves who preserved their identity; it was the world around them that imposed it upon them.

I believe it is part of God’s plan that the Jewish race is still intact. I think that as the book of Revelation predicts, the Jewish nation will ultimately fulfill the mission He has for them.

I believe that at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our Jewish friends will become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to a degree that neither they, nor we as Christians, have ever done. (Exodus 19:5-6)

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at khobbs5@aol.com.