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Why did the jews leave Israel and spread out through the world?

Why did the jews leave Israel and spread out through the world?

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When and what lead jews to leave Israel after the Roman conquest and spread out through out the world?

Actually, the Jewish diaspora (i.e. their spread outside Israel) began long before, with the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish Kingdom and the deportation of the Jews to other territories, a common practice amongst the Assyrians, and with the Babylonian Captivity. Later, the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to Israel, but many just didn't. The Greeks and the Romans would later conquer the Eastern Mediterranean.
Broadly speaking, at first, the Romans were more or less lenient conquerors, allowing the Jews to continue their worship and have their own rulers as long as they acknowledged Roman overlordship. After the First Jewish-Roman War and the uprisings that followed, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jewish leadership was executed and many Jews were exiled, and with that the center of political and religious power shifted from Jerusalem and the Temple to the local Jewish communities throughout the Empire.


Anti-Semitism, sometimes called history’s oldest hatred, is hostility or prejudice against Jewish people. The Nazi Holocaust is history’s most extreme example of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism did not begin with Adolf Hitler: Anti-Semitic attitudes date back to ancient times. In much of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish people were denied citizenship and forced to live in ghettos. Anti-Jewish riots called pogroms swept the Russian Empire during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and anti-Semitic incidents have increased in parts of Europe, the Middle East and North America in the last several years.

The term anti-Semitism was first popularized by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to describe hatred or hostility toward Jews. The history of anti-Semitism, however, goes back much further.

Hostility against Jews may date back nearly as far as Jewish history. In the ancient empires of Babylonia, Greece, and Rome, Jews—who originated in the ancient kingdom of Judea—were often criticized and persecuted for their efforts to remain a separate cultural group rather than taking on the religious and social customs of their conquerors.

With the rise of Christianity, anti-Semitism spread throughout much of Europe. Early Christians vilified Judaism in a bid to gain more converts. They accused Jews of outlandish acts such as 𠇋lood libel”—the kidnapping and murder of Christian children to use their blood to make Passover bread.

These religious attitudes were reflected in anti-Jewish economic, social and political policies that pervaded into the European Middle Ages.

Why did so many Jews reject Jesus?

We learn valuable lessons for the life of faith when we study the attitudes of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, and ask why so many rejected Him. While it is true that the majority of Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, it is important to recognise that the first to believe in Him were a relatively small group of Jews – numbered in the thousands out of all the millions of Israel.

The expression “the Israel of God” refers to Jewish believers in Jesus [Galatians 6:16]. It is not an expansion of “Israel”, to include Gentile believers, but a restriction of Israel – to identify the believing remnant among the Jewish people.

Galatians 6:16

Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

In the same way, when Jesus referred to Nathanael as “a true Israelite” [John 1:47], He was recognising that Nathanael was a Jew who was truly trusting in God.

John 1:47

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

Although Israel had been promised a Messiah and Saviour – and we can see many Scriptures (which they had too) which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ – multitudes of Jews rejected Him and even persecuted the early Jewish church (Acts 7:59-8:1 ).

Acts 7:59-8:1

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

So, although it is true that God predestined the rejection of Jesus by all except a remnant of Israel – so that the gospel could go out to Gentiles [Romans 11:2-5,25] – it is also true that individuals are not absolved of responsibility to accept the Truth [Acts 7:51].

Romans 11:2-5,25

God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

Acts 7:51

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

Why did so many Jews reject Jesus?

The Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of a Messiah. There were scriptures that spoke of a Suffering Servant and scriptures that spoke of a Conquering King. We know that the verses that speak of a Conquering King refer to Jesus at His Second Coming. However, we can perhaps understand that, without the revelation of the Holy Spirit, it was confusing for the Jews. (Even today, many rabbis believe in two separate messiahs.)

At the time of Jesus, the Jews were under the heel of the Roman Empire. Their nation was occupied and they were waiting for a leader to arise to rescue them. They were focused on the hope of a Conquering King – so much so that many overlooked the prophecies of a Suffering Servant.

We say, “No cross, no crown. No thorns, no throne”, but many in Israel did not look beyond their desire for immediate victory.

I have to ask myself: Is this any different to conditions in much of the church today? So many Christians believe that, as “King’s kids”, they are entitled to prosperity and “success”. Because of Israel’s history, it is worth being cautious of anything that hints of Christian triumphalism.

At the time of Jesus, most of the people of Israel tried to find their righteousness in their striving to obey the Law. Works are satisfying to self. It gave them reason to take pride in their own efforts. On the other hand, those who admitted that they were not measuring up and who threw themselves on the mercy of God, were the ones who were better able to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf [Romans 9:30-33].

There is always a danger in church-life of drifting to a place where we find our security in formalism, rather than through faith in Christ. The Christian life is not about rules and rituals. It is about relationship with Jesus. We need to draw close to Him, and recognise when we are starting to take pride in our religious practices.

Romans 9:30-33

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ’stumbling stone.’ As it is written:
‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

Religious leaders in Israel at the time of Jesus had status and property that they wanted to protect. They were concerned that the Romans would find an excuse to take over their religious life and temple [John 11:47-53]. They were willing to sacrifice Jesus rather than lose control.

Studying the New Testament, I cannot find a single example of early Christians acquiring church property or any symbols of success. The opposite in fact. They seemed to be in a race to give everything away to the poor [Acts 2:42-45]. I would not use this as a reason to say that churches should not build meeting facilities, but I do wonder when vast sums are spent to make these buildings ostentatious, and I have observed that disputes in church-life are intensified whenever there is a struggle for control of property. It seems spiritually safer to live without this temptation or, at the very least, to cry out to God for help to not let it take our eyes off Jesus.

John 11:47-53

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take His life.

Acts 2:42-45

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Jesus said that at the end of time “the love of most will grow cold” [Matthew 24:12-13]. The Bible also says that the end will not come until the apostasy, or great falling away ΐ Thessalonians 2:3].

God was strict on Israel, even though He says that He never stopped loving them [Jeremiah 31:3]. I have to wonder: Is there a similar test ahead for the church? [Romans 11:13-24].

Matthew 24:12-13

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:3

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the apostasy occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed….

Jeremiah 31:3

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

Romans 11:13-24

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy if the root is holy, so are the branches.

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

Israel Science and Technology Directory

Written by: Israel Hanukoglu, Ph.D.

  • Note: An earlier version of this article is available in PDF format:
    "A Brief History of Israel and the Jewish People" published in the Knowledge Quest magazine.

Quote from Charles Krauthammer - The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998

"Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store."

The people of Israel (also called the "Jewish People") trace their origin to Abraham, who established the belief that there is only one God, the creator of the universe (see Torah). Abraham, his son Yitshak (Isaac), and grandson Jacob (Israel) are referred to as the patriarchs of the Israelites. All three patriarchs lived in the Land of Canaan, which later became known as the Land of Israel. They and their wives are buried in the Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron (Genesis Chapter 23).

The name Israel derives from the name given to Jacob (Genesis 32:29). His 12 sons were the kernels of 12 tribes that later developed into the Jewish nation. The name Jew derives from Yehuda (Judah), one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yisachar, Zevulun, Yosef, Binyamin)(Exodus 1:1). So, the names Israel, Israeli or Jewish refer to people of the same origin.

The descendants of Abraham crystallized into a nation at about 1300 BCE after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Moshe in Hebrew). Soon after the Exodus, Moses transmitted to the people of this newly emerging nation the Torah and the Ten Commandments (Exodus Chapter 20). After 40 years in the Sinai desert, Moses led them to the Land of Israel, which is cited in The Bible as the land promised by G-d to the descendants of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 17:8).

The people of modern-day Israel share the same language and culture shaped by the Jewish heritage and religion passed through generations starting with the founding father Abraham (ca. 1800 BCE). Thus, Jews have had a continuous presence in the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

Before his death, Moses appointed Joshua as his successor to lead the 12 tribes of Israel. The rule of Israelites in the land of Israel started with the conquests and settlement of 12 tribes under the leadership of Joshua (ca. 1250 BCE). The period from 1000-587 BCE is known as the "Period of the Kings". The most noteworthy kings were King David (1010-970 BCE), who made Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, and his son Solomon (Shlomo, 970-931 BCE), who built the first Temple in Jerusalem as prescribed in the Tanach (Old Testament).

In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern-day Iraq).

The year 587 BCE marks a turning point in the history of the Middle East. From this year onwards, the region was ruled or controlled by a succession of superpower empires of the time in the following order: Babylonian, Persian, Greek Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Empires, Islamic and Christian crusaders, Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire.

After the exile by the Romans in 70 CE, the Jewish people migrated to Europe and North Africa. In the Diaspora (scattered outside of the Land of Israel), they established rich cultural and economic lives and contributed significantly to the societies where they lived. Yet, they continued their national culture and prayed to return to Israel through the centuries. In the first half of the 20th century, there were major waves of immigration of Jews back to Israel from Arab countries and Europe. Despite the Balfour Declaration, the British severely restricted the entry of Jews into Palestine, and those living in Palestine were subject to violence and massacres by Arabs mobs. During World War II, the Nazi regime in Germany decimated about 6 million Jews creating the great tragedy of The Holocaust.

Despite all the hardships, the Jewish community prepared itself for independence openly and in clandestine. On May 14, 1948, the day that the last British forces left Israel, the Jewish community leader, David Ben-Gurion, declared independence, establishing the modern State of Israel (see the Declaration of independence).

Arab-Israeli wars

A day after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, armies of five Arab countries, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, invaded Israel. This invasion marked the beginning of the War of Independence of Israel (מלחמת העצמאות). Arab states have jointly waged four full-scale wars against Israel:

  • 1948 War of Independence
  • 1956 Sinai War
  • 1967 Six-Day War
  • 1973 Yom Kippur War

Despite the numerical superiority of the Arab armies, Israel defended itself each time and won. After each war, Israeli army withdrew from most of the areas it captured (see maps). This is unprecedented in World history and shows Israel's willingness to reach peace even at the risk of fighting for its very existence each time anew.

Including Judea and Samaria, Israel is only 40 miles wide. Thus, Israel can be crossed from the Mediterranean coast to the Eastern border at the Jordan river within two hours of driving.

References and resources for further information

    - An excellent high-quality book including a chronology of the history of Israel by Francisco Gil-White. This is the best revolutionary exposition of the influence of Judaism on World culture in a historical perspective.

Ingathering of the Israelites

This drawing by Dr. Semion Natliashvili depicts the modern ingathering of the Jewish People after 2,000 years of Diaspora.

The center image of the picture shows a young and old man attired in a prayer shawl and reading from a Torah scroll that has united the Jewish People. The written portion shows Shema Yisrael Adonay Eloheynu Adonay Echad (Hear, Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One).

The Star of David symbolizes the gathering of the Jewish People from all corners of the world, including Georgia (country of birth of the artist), Morocco, Russia, America, China, Ethiopia, Europe and other countries joining together and dancing in celebration. Other images inside the star symbolize modern Israeli industry, agriculture and military. The images on the margins of the picture symbolize the major threats that the Jewish People faced in Exile starting from the Exodus from Egypt, followed by Romans, Arabs, and culminating in the gas-chambers of the Holocaust in Europe.

Diaspora of the Jews

After the third Jewish revolt occurred in 135 A.D. the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world by Emperor Hadrian. Since the time Rome had controlled Judea starting in 40 B.C., the Jews had been revolting and trying to gain their freedom. Rome had to suffer and put up with the Jews for almost 150 years before they finally decided to wipe them out and take their homeland from them. This is known as the Diaspora of the Jews and appears on the Biblical Timeline Poster in 135 AD.

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A History of Jewish Exile

Jewish people were constantly deported from their homeland starting first with the Babylonians, then the Persians, the Greeks and finally the Romans. They enjoyed a brief period of autonomous rule that lasted during the Hasmonean Dynasty. This ended in 40 B.C. when King Herod used the Roman Empire to gain control of Judea. Since that point, the Jews had been fighting hard against Roman domination.

Revolts and Rebellions

The next 150 years of Jewish history was marked by rebellion and revolts against Rome. The Jews were tired of the Romans and their lack of respect for Jewish life. They formed militant resistance groups that came and went over the years. The Zealots were probably the most famous resistance group during this era. Many of the people might not have liked the things that the Zealots had done, but most of them were allied to their cause. Eventually, the Zealots rebellion culminated in the first Jewish-Roman war where Jerusalem was taken and the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Romans once and for all. Many Jewish people were sold into slavery or resettled into other cities. These events happened in 70 A.D. About 45 years later in 115 A.D. a second Jewish revolt happened and shortly after this event (in 132 A.D.) the Jews revolted a third time under the rule of Hadrian. This was the final straw and after they were defeated Hadrian deported the Jews, sold them into slavery and renamed Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina and the kingdom of Judea was now called Palestine, Syria. This event would mark a significant changing point in the history of the Jewish people.

The Jews in Other Territories

Many of the Jews were scattered across the empire and they never were able to regain their homeland. So they developed their own communities in the cultures where they lived. Jews were now living in various parts of Africa, Rome, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and some had gone to India and even as far as China. In time, Jews migrated to Russia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the United States.

They concentrated on keeping their way of life and did not assimilate into the dominant cultures that surrounded them. They became powerful members of their society and many Jewish people were involved in banking and commerce. The Jews learned how to gain leadership positions and they pretty much kept to themselves in order to avoid as much conflict as possible. They were hard workers and a respectable people who did their best not to be a burden on the societies where they lived.

The events of World War II forced the Jews to once again back into their homeland. In 1949, the British took Palestine and gave it back to the Jewish people and all the Jews in the world now had a place to call home once again.

Was Israel created because of the Holocaust?

Michigan Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib (the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress) recently sparked another partisan controversy over Israel with her comments about the Palestinians’ role in Israel’s creation in the wake of the Holocaust of European Jewry. Republicans have accused her of antisemitism, while her fellow Democrats have rushed to her defense, but what has gone largely unchallenged amid the partisan rancor has been her insinuation that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. In my new book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know, I debunk this widely-held assumption.

The chronological proximity of the Holocaust and Israel’s establishment has led many people to assume that the two events are causally connected and that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. Contrary to this popular belief, however, a Jewish state would probably have emerged in Palestine, sooner or later, with or without the Holocaust.

Political Zionists like Theodore Herzl made the case for Jewish statehood decades before the mass murder of European Jewry took place, and the Zionist movement had spent many years actively building in Palestine the political and economic infrastructure for an eventual Jewish state. Zionists, in Palestine and elsewhere, did not need the Holocaust to convince them of the Jews’ existential need for statehood, although it did make them even more determined, and less patient, to achieve this long-held objective.

Most Jews in the diaspora, who had previously been opposed to Zionism or largely indifferent toward it, were convinced of the need for Jewish statehood upon learning about the near-annihilation of European Jewry and the desperate plight of those who managed to survive. In the wake of the Holocaust, Zionism became the dominant ideology across the Jewish world. The Holocaust seemed to vindicate the Zionist argument that Jews needed a state of their own to protect, rescue, and shelter them from their enemies. This led many Diaspora Jews, especially those in the United States, to become vocal and energetic advocates for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. American Jews also provided much-needed money and arms to Jews in Palestine to help them develop and defend such a state.

The mass mobilization of American Jewry in support of Jewish statehood after World War II undoubtedly played a role in persuading the U.S. government to support the partition of Palestine in the pivotal UN vote in November 1947, and then to immediately recognize the State of Israel after it was declared. Historians continue to debate just how much this support was a factor in the Truman administration’s decision-making at the time. President Harry Truman was concerned about winning the influential Jewish vote in the presidential election of November 1948, and he was subjected to intense lobbying by American Jewish Zionists. But it is by no means clear that these were the main reasons why Truman supported the partition of Palestine and recognized the State of Israel, going against the advice of his own State Department.

American public opinion was deeply affected by the Holocaust, and consequently the United States became more supportive of Jewish statehood in its aftermath. This certainly influenced U.S. foreign policy, as did President Truman’s genuine sympathy for Jewish suffering in the Holocaust and for the plight of Jewish Holocaust survivors (shortly after he became president at the end of World War II, for instance, Truman asked the British government, unsuccessfully, to admit 100,000 Holocaust survivors into Palestine).

None of these factors, however, outweighed the influence of pragmatic considerations in determining U.S. foreign policy regarding the future of Palestine. Above all, it was driven by the pressing need to resettle up to 250,000 Jewish refugees and displaced persons in Europe (many of whom were unwilling to return to their countries of origin), and by an equally important desire to avoid a war in Palestine that might destabilize the Middle East and be exploited by the Soviet Union.

Some American policymakers, including Truman himself, also expected a Jewish state to be democratic and pro-Western, thereby helping to contain the spread of Soviet influence in the region. In the context of the emerging Cold War with the Soviets, U.S. strategic interests shaped American foreign policy more than humanitarian concerns for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. A belief that Jews should be compensated for their suffering in the Holocaust and morally deserved to have their own state was, at most, a secondary factor.

Other states, particularly Great Britain and the Soviet Union, were even more motivated by realpolitik than by sympathy for the Holocaust in their stances toward the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The British opposed Jewish statehood largely out of a desire to maintain good relations with Arab states (whose plentiful oil supplies they needed). The Soviets, on the other hand, supported Jewish statehood because they wanted to get the British out of Palestine and hoped that a Jewish state, led by the socialist-oriented Mapai Party, would have good relations with the USSR.

Although there was certainly widespread international sympathy for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, this sympathy was transient, and it did not automatically translate into popular support for the creation of a Jewish state. Nor was the public support that did exist the main reason why the UN General Assembly voted to divide Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The vote primarily reflected the wishes of Washington and Moscow — which, for once, happened to be aligned — and the perceived national interests of the UN member states (some were heavily pressured to vote for partition).

The Holocaust, therefore, was not nearly as much of a factor in Israel’s creation as many people, including Rep. Tlaib, think. Though it has generated popular support for Israel’s existence, particularly in some Western countries, it was not the cause of Israel’s establishment.

Why Wave Palm Leaves?

Question sent in by Janie. Palm Sunday the people greeted Jesus back from the desert waving palm leaves. WHY?

Why Wave Palm Leaves There are a couple of explanations. One is that it was common practice in the ancient world to welcome home a king or war hero by laying out a path of branches for him to ride/walk on - similar to rolling out the red carpet today in English-speaking countries. Others suggest that Romans honored champions of the games and the military with palm branches Another explanation is that it is a reminder of the Festival of the Booths commanded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

For this festival the Israelites were commanded: “And you must take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, the fronds of palm trees and the boughs of branchy trees and poplars of the torrent valley, and you must rejoice before Jehovah your God seven days.” The palm branches were used as a mark of rejoicing. The temporary booths were a reminder that Jehovah had saved his people out of Egypt, to live in tents in the wilderness. “The alien resident and the fatherless boy and the widow” shared in this festival. All Israel was to “become nothing but joyful.”­Leviticus 23:40 Deuteronomy 16:13-15 However others believe there is no connection between this festival that occurred months after Passover and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Christ just before his death and resurrection. Another interesting fact: Why did Christ ride in on a donkey or ass?

Exodus: Why Europe's Jews Are Fleeing Once Again

The mob howled for vengeance, the missiles raining down on the synagogue walls as the worshippers huddled inside. It was a scene from Europe in the 1930s &ndash except this was eastern Paris on the evening of July 13th, 2014.

Thousands had gathered to demonstrate against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. But the protest soon turned violent &ndash and against Jews in general. One of those trapped told Israeli television that the streets outside were "like an intifada", the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Some of the trapped Jews fought their way out as the riot police dispersed the crowd. Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, condemned the attack in "the strongest possible terms", while Joel Mergei, a community leader, said he was "profoundly shocked and revolted". The words had no effect. Two weeks later, 400 protesters attacked a synagogue and Jewish-owned businesses in Sarcelles, in the north of Paris, shouting "Death to the Jews". Posters had even advertised the raid in advance, like the pogroms of Tsarist Russia.

France has suffered the worst violence, but anti-Semitism is spiking across Europe, fuelled by the war in Gaza. In Britain, the Community Security Trust (CST) says there were around 100 anti-Semitic incidents in July, double the usual number. The CST has issued a security alert for Jewish institutions. In Berlin a crowd of anti-Israel protesters had to be prevented from attacking a synagogue. In Liege, Belgium, a café owner put up a sign saying dogs were welcome, but Jews were not allowed.

Yet for many French and European Jews, the violence comes as no surprise. Seventy years after the Holocaust, from Amiens to Athens, the world's oldest hatred flourishes anew. For some, opposition to Israeli policies is now a justification for open hatred of Jews &ndash even though many Jews are strongly opposed to Israel's rightward lurch, and support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

As Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, argues: "These people were not attacked because they were showing their support for the Israeli government. They were attacked because they were Jews, going about their daily business."

One weekend in May seemed to epitomise the darkness. On May 24th a gunman pulled out a Kalashnikov assault rifle at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and opened fire, killing four people. The next day the results of the elections to the European parliament showed a surge in support for extreme-right ­parties in France, Greece, Hungary and Germany. The National Front in France won the election, which many fear could be a precursor to eventually taking power in a national election.

Perhaps the most shocking result was the surge in support for Golden Dawn in Greece. The party, which has been described as openly neo-Nazi, won almost 10% of the vote, bringing it three members of the European parliament.

In parts of Hungary, especially the impoverished north and east, Jobbik is the main opposition to the governing right-wing Fidesz. Jobbik won 14.7% of votes at the European elections. The party denies being antisemitic but even Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, ruled out cooperating with them in the European parliament.

In November 2012, Marton Gyöngyösi, a senior Jobbik MP, called for a list to be made of Hungarian Jews, especially those working in Parliament or for the government, as they posed a "national security risk". (Gyöngyösi later apologised and said he was referring only to Jews with dual Israeli-­Hungarian citizenship.)

Some saw the Brussels attack and the election results as dark portents. "At what point," asked Jeffrey Goldberg, a prominent American Jewish journalist, "do the Jews of America and the Jews of Israel tell the Jews of Europe that it might be time to get out?" Around now, it seems.

A survey published in November 2013 by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union found that 29% had considered emigrating as they did not feel safe. Jews across Europe, the survey noted, "face insults, discrimination and physical violence, which despite concerted efforts by both the EU and its member states, shows no signs of fading into the past".

Two-thirds considered anti-Semitism to be a problem across the countries surveyed. Overall, 76% said that anti-Semitism had worsened over the past five years in their home countries, with the most marked deteriorations in France, Hungary and Belgium. The European Jewish Congress has now set up a website, sacc.eu, to give advice and contacts in the events of an attack.

"The tendency is very alarming," says Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, which links Israel with diaspora communities and organises immigration. "The level of concern about security in Europe is higher than in Asia or Latin America. This feeling of insecurity is growing. It's difficult to imagine that in France, Belgium and many other countries Jewish people are told not to go out on the streets wearing a kippah."

A survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York found similar results. The ADL Global 100 surveyed 53,000 adults in 102 countries. It found that 26% held deeply anti-Semitic attitudes, answering "probably true" to six or more of 11 negative stereotypes of Jews.

The highest levels of prejudice were found in the Arab world, with the Palestinian Territories topping the list at 93%, followed by Iraq at 92%. In Europe Greece topped the list at 69%, while France scored 37% and Belgium 27%. Britain had 8%, the Netherlands 5% and Sweden was the lowest at 4%. In Eastern Europe Poland had 45% and Hungary 41%. The Czech Republic was lowest at 13%.

But the picture is more complex than the survey suggests. Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city, is one of the most unsettling places in Europe for Jews. Anti-Semitic attacks tripled between 2010 and 2012, when the community, around 700-strong, recorded 60 incidents. In October 2012 a bomb exploded at the Jewish community centre.

Jewish leaders accused Ilmar Reepalu, who served as mayor between 1994 and 2013, of inflammatory comments. Reepalu called for Jews to distance themselves from Zionism, and claimed that the Jewish community had been "infiltrated" by the Sweden Democrats party, which has its roots in the far-right. Reepalu has denied being anti-Semitic. But his remarks provoked a storm of protest and he was forced to retract them. Hannah Rosenthal, the former US Special Envoy for combating anti-Semitism, said Malmo was a prime example of the "new anti-Semitism" where hatred of Israel is used to disguise hatred of Jews.

It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the Israeli government or its policies towards the Palestinians, say Jewish leaders. A reasoned, open debate on the conflict is always welcome &ndash especially now, when passions are running so high over Gaza. But the morbid obsession with the only democracy in the Middle East, they say, its relentless demonisation and the calls for its destruction are indicative of anti-Semitism.

Social media provides an easy platform for the spread of hate, which has been given impetus by the alliance between Islamists and the left, says Ben Cohen, author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Anti-Semitism. "Saying that Jews are the only nation who don't have the right to self-determination, smearing Israel as a modern incarnation of Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, asserting that the 'Israel Lobby' manipulates American foreign policy from the shadows is unmistakably anti-Semitism."

In 1997 I wrote a book about Muslim minorities in Europe, called A Heart Turned East. It was optimistic, and, with hindsight, naïve of me. I travelled across France, Germany, Britain, Turkey and Bosnia. I hoped then that a tolerant, modern Islam could emerge in Europe, in the Ottoman tradition. The Ottomans had not been perfect, but they had been comparably tolerant &ndash especially in comparison to the Catholic church. In France I met Muslim intellectuals, exiles and artists. They were resentful of their second class status, and had been scarred by racism and discrimination. But their anger was directed at the French authorities and they were keen to co-exist with their Jewish compatriots.

So what went wrong? The undercurrents had long been swirling, but had been little noticed. They date back to the Islamic revolution in Iran, the siege of Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, says Ghaffar Hussain, of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank in London. "Islamist extremism experienced a global upsurge post 1979. These events played into the hands of Islamists." That anger was further fuelled by the Bosnian war, which helped nurture a global Muslim consciousness.

Many western Muslim communities are suffering an identity crisis, says Hussain. The politics of hate offers an easy escape and a means of blaming personal feelings on others. "In many cases it resonates with the life experiences of young Muslims. They feel alienated and disenfranchised, due to negative experiences, personal inadequacies or even cultural differences."

Jews, Muslims, African and other immigrants once lived in reasonable harmony in the banlieues, sharing hard time. La Haine (Hate), a hugely successful thriller directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, released in 1995, starred three protagonists: one Jewish, one Afro-French and a third from a North African family. The violence and brutality are experienced by all three friends.

Such a film is nearly unimaginable nowadays. The turning point came in January 2006 with the kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi. A 23-year-old mobile telephone salesman, Halimi was lured into a honey-trap, abducted and held for three weeks in Bagneux, outside Paris. There he was tortured while his abductors telephoned his family, so they could hear his screams. Youssouf Fofana, the leader of the gang, was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the case was that 28 people were involved in the kidnapping and many more living on the housing estate knew about it. "The murder of Ilan Halimi was the first murder of a Jew because he was a Jew," says Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF). "The prejudice and lack of humanity were impressive. It is unbelievable that in the 24 days he was held and tortured not one of the people involved even considered making an anonymous call to the police."

Many blame the controversial comedian Dieudonne and his "quenelle", supposedly a modified version of the Nazi salute, for fuelling hatred. Social media are awash with his followers, performing the quenelle in front of synagogues, Holocaust memorials, the school in Toulouse where three Jewish children and a teacher were murdered and even at the gates of Auschwitz.

Dieudonne denies that the gesture is anti-Semitic. The quenelle, he says, is a "gesture of liberation" from slavery. Dieudonne is also the creator of the "ShoahNanas" (Holocaust Pineapples) song, which he sings, accompanied by a young man wearing a large yellow star over a pair of pyjamas.

Now a new ingredient has been tossed into the cauldron: the wars in Syria and Iraq. The French government estimates that 800 jihadists are fighting in Syria, accompanied by several hundred from Britain. Among their number was Mehdi Nemmouche, who is accused of the attack on the Brussels Jewish museum. French police found he had in his possession a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a pistol, which they believed were used in the attack.

Together with the weapons, police found a white sheet emblazoned with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the militia judged too extreme even for al-Qaida, which has captured large swathes of Iraq.

In May 2012 in Toulouse a gunman killed seven people, including a teacher and three children, at a Jewish school. "Jews in France or Belgium are being killed because they are Jews," says Cukierman. "Jihadism has become the new Nazism. This makes people consider leaving France."

The murders have not dampened anti-Jewish hatred. On the contrary, they seem to have inflamed it. The spike in anti-Semitism has seen emigration to Israel soar. In 2011 and 2012 just under 2,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel.

In 2013, the year after the Toulouse attack, 3,289 left. In the first quarter of this year 1,778 Jews emigrated. "This year I expect 5-6,000 Jews to leave," says Cukierman. "If they move to Israel because of Zionism, it's OK. But if it is because of fear, then that is not pleasant. The problem is that democracy is not well equipped to fight against terrorism. What we saw in Toulouse and Brussels is terrorism."

Across Europe Jewish communities are investing in security infrastructure and boosting protection. After the Toulouse attacks, the Jewish Agency established a Fund for Emergency Assistance. So far it has distributed almost $4m to boost security at 116 Jewish institutions in more than 30 countries. In Britain the government pays £2.5m a year for security guards at Jewish schools.

There is a direct link between events in the Middle East, especially ­concerning Israel/Palestine and spikes in anti-Semitism, says CST spokesman Mark Gardener. Gaza has caused a new spike in attacks. "The situation is like a pressure cooker, awaiting any spark to set it off, with local Jewish communities the targets of racist attacks."

So far, British Jews have not suffered a terrorist attack like Toulouse or ­Brussels, but not for want of jihadis trying. In 2011 Somali troops shot dead an al-Qaida leader in Africa when he tried to ram his car through a checkpoint. Documents found inside his car included detailed plans for attacks on Eton College, the Ritz and Dorchester hotels, and the Golders Green and Stamford Hill neighbourhoods of London, which have large Jewish populations.

The following year nine British jihadis were convicted of plotting terrorist acts including the potential targeting of two rabbis, and a husband-and-wife team from Oldham, north England, were convicted of plotting terrorist attacks on Manchester's Jewish community.

Muslims are over-represented among the perpetrators of anti-Semitic incidents, says Gardener. "It is not as extreme as France, Belgium, Holland or Malmo, where the levels of anti-Semitism make life difficult for Jews, but it is a phenomenon. A large number of Muslims believe that 9/11 was a Jewish plot, that Jews run the media and that Jewish money controls politicians. Of course there are Muslim organisations that speak out against anti-Semitism and many Muslim leaders are fully aware of the damage anti-Semitism does to their own community."

Yet the picture is not all bleak. In Berlin and Budapest Jewish life is flourishing. The epicentre of the Holocaust seems an unlikely centre for a Jewish renaissance. But the German capital is now home to one of the world's ­fastest-growing Jewish communities, tens of thousands strong. There is a growing sense, particularly among younger Germans, that the city is incomplete without a Jewish presence, especially in the arts, culture and literature. The glory days of the pre-war years can never be recreated, but they can be remembered and used as inspiration for a new form of German-Jewish culture.

Berlin's Jewish revival is boosted by influxes from Russia and a growing number of Israelis who have applied for German passports.

Budapest is home to the region's largest indigenous Jewish community, usually estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000, although perhaps a fifth of that number are affiliated with the Jewish community. Still the city is home to a dozen working synagogues, a thriving community centre, kosher shops, bars and restaurants and each summer hosts the Jewish summer festival, which is supported by the government and the municipality. District VII, the traditional Jewish quarter, is now the hippest part of town, home to numerous bohemian "ruin-pubs".

Communal life was moribund under Communism. Until recently, the ­Jewish establishment was perceived by many as insular and self-serving. Only now are a new generation of activists such as Adam Schönburger revitalising Jewish life, in part by focusing on cultural, social and ethical issues, rather than religion. Schönburger is one of the founders of Siraly, a Jewish cultural centre that will re-open later this year.

The result is a new confidence among many Hungarian Jews and a pride in their heritage. So much so that they are boycotting the government's Holocaust commemoration events, accusing the government of whitewashing the country's collaboration in the Holocaust &ndash which the government strongly denies, pointing out that numerous officials, including the president, have admitted Hungary's responsibility.

"We have to redefine what it means to be Jewish," says Schönburger. "I don't see many possibilities through solely religious continuity. We need to educate people about their heritage and have new reference points for them to feel connected. These can be cultural or through social activism, the idea of Tikkun Olam, 'healing the world'."

Few of the angry youths of the banlieues know that Muslims and Jews share a common history, of tolerance and co-existence.

Jewish life flourished under Islamic rule in Spain, an era known as the Golden Age, which produced some of the most important works of Jewish scholarship and a flowering of knowledge and science. Jews served as advisers to the Muslim rulers, as doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers. Although there were sporadic outbreaks of violence, Jews living under Muslim rule in medieval times were far more prosperous, secure and integrated than those in Christian Europe.

When in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II was so incredulous that he sent a fleet of boats to collect them. Such a prize, of doctors, lawyers, scientists and traders, could not be allowed to slip by.

"Do they call this Ferdinand a wise prince who impoverishes his kingdom and enriches mine?" he asked. The Jewish immigrants settled across the Ottoman empire, from Salonika to Baghdad.

Teaching about that common heritage, and the shared roots of Islam and Judaism could help defuse the hatred, argues Roger Cukierman. "We have to teach children, from the age of five or six to respect their neighbours, whatever their colour, religion or origin. This is not done today. We have to educate parents and the media, not to promote hatred."

Moderate Muslim and Jewish leaders are working together against campaigns to ban circumcision and ritual ­slaughter, says Ghaffar Hussain, of the Quilliam Foundation. "We only hear about what the extremists are doing. But we need to challenge extremist narratives and work for a liberal, secular democratic space, where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can thrive and co-exist."

The future of European Jewry is more than a question for Jews themselves, argues Natan Sharansky. "I would like to see strong Jewish communities in Europe, but they are more and more hesitant about what their future is. Europe's leaders are working hard to convince that Europe is multicultural and post-nationalist. But if the oldest minority in Europe feels uncomfortable and is disappearing, that raises questions of education and citizenship. That is the challenge for Europe's leaders."

Newsweek Update: Complaint response

On July 29, 2014, Newsweek published an article entitled 'Exodus: Why Europe's Jews Are Fleeing Once Again'. The article referred to violence that erupted around the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue in the Rue de la Roquette in eastern Paris on July 13th, in the aftermath of a demonstration against Israel's war in Gaza, and further violence a week later in Sarcelles, north of Paris.

Newsweek has received a complaint about this article. It accuses our coverage of being inaccurate and biased against pro-Palestinian demonstrators and French people of Arab and/or Muslim background. An investigation by Newsweek has seen conflicting narratives emerge about these events. Here follows an update on the original report.

Aline Le Bail-Kremer, a local resident, witnessed the violence. She told Newsweek: "From my windows, I saw two groups of around 100 people converge on the synagogue, from the two sides of the street. They had an aggressive attitude and were carrying baseball bats, chairs and tables, stolen from the bars and cafes around. They threw these in the direction of the people standing in front of the synagogue.

"I took a photograph of this. There was a fight with the synagogue security staff for more than forty minutes. It was a violent and frightening scene. There were shouts of 'Death to the Jews'. I was very frightened.

"The group attacking the synagogue on the Rue de la Roquette came from the end of an anti-Israel demonstration at Bastille. A second synagogue, nearby on Rue des Tournelles, was also attacked that day.

"The police arrived after more than 40 minutes and an hour later the street was quiet again. During these events around 150 people were trapped inside the synagogue where they had to stay for their own security. After more than 40 minutes, the police forces came and after more than one hour again, the place became quiet.

"I also saw that a group of young people, perhaps belonging to the Jewish Defence League [a militant Jewish organisation], used racist words and used violence against those attacking the synagogue. Overall, this was clearly an anti-Semitic attack on the synagogue."

CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, says the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue suffered an 'anti-Semitic attack'. CRIF said that young Jews protected people inside the synagogue as "dozens of protesters tried to enter with iron bars, pick handles and backpacks filled with dangerous projectiles".

On August 6th the New York Times published an article entitled 'A Militant Jewish Group Confronts Pro-Palestinian Protesters in France', about the activities of the Jewish Defence League. The article referenced events at Rue de la Roquette, noting "several congregation members who were there said demonstrators, some wielding metal bars and bats, had tried to scale the walls while [Jewish Defence] League members forced them back by tossing table and chairs".

However, pro-Palestinian groups strongly deny that the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue was attacked by anti-Israel demonstrators. They say no projectiles were thrown at the building and no protestors came within 150m of the synagogue. The violence, they said, was instigated by the Jewish Defence League, whose members were hurling projectiles at pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

In an interview with i>Télé, a French digital channel, Erwan Simon, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said that militant Jews were chanting "Death to Arabs, Israel will win", from behind the police lines.

The organisers of the pro-Palestinian demonstration specifically requested protestors not to go to Rue de la Roquette to confront the militant Jewish protestors, said Mr Simon. He also asked why the police did not intervene to stop the violence when hundreds of officers had been deployed nearby, a question also asked by many Jews.

A video posted on YouTube shows a street battle between two groups.

A second video purports to show the view from inside the synagogue as the fighting raged outside:

Serge Benhaim, the president of the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue, told Newsweek that the synagogue was not directly attacked. There were between four and five hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Rue de la Roquette but they did not get within two hundred metres of the building. Some were carrying weapons, but no projectiles were thrown at the building.

"I can say that the synagogue was not directly attacked. But I cannot say what would have happened if they had arrived in front of the synagogue or inside it."

Mr Benhaim said that the violence had started at the pro-Palestinian demonstration, which was five hundred metres away. "They probably heard that we were praying for peace in the synagogue and the address is well known."

Mr Benhaim said that the Jewish Defence League had not instigated the violence. "There were 20 or 30 of them inside or around the synagogue. They did not provoke anything. I was a witness to the whole thing. Any accusation that the Jewish Defence League started the violence is a lie. I am not a supporter of the League but I have to be objective and say the truth."

Five people were arrested after the events on Rue de la Roquette, according to Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, of the Paris prosecution service. One person was sentenced to four months in prison for resisting arrest. One received a two month prison sentence, suspended another received a 200 euro fine, also suspended. None of those arrested have been or will be charged with anti-Semitic hate crimes. The investigation is now closed.

On July 21 Le Figaro published a lengthy article about the violence in Sarcelles. The article quoted Francois Pupponi, the deputy mayor of Sarcelles, as saying: "This is the first time I have seen protesters saying 'Death to the Jews' while carrying Turkish flags".

Mr Pupponi's office did not respond to Newsweek's emails and telephone calls seeking clarification of this quote. Le Figaro has not received any requests for correction.

In an interview with BFMTV.com, Mr Pupponi denounced what he called "a horde of savages, very young people that decided to turn to a very basic form of anti-Semitism and express this by attacking this synagogue in broad daylight with their faces uncovered."

"As we were warned, we tried with the police to prevent them from doing this at this synagogue, but they managed to smash some shops up elsewhere. This is not an issue of community against community. This is a case of a limited number of individuals who have decided to express a form of mindless violence."

Pro-Palestinian groups strongly deny that the crowd in Sarcelles shouted "Death to the Jews". They say there is no evidence to support these claims and point to the absence of news reports or social media recording such chants. In addition, they say the violence did not specifically target Jews, and many non-Jewish businesses were also attacked. The violence was a result of hooliganism, not anti-Semitism.

Video posted on YouTube shows local youths trying to break into ticket machines and pulling down CCTV cameras and protesters chanting against Israel.

Video also shows Jews gathered around the Synagogue in Sarcelles to protect it from protesters, while they sing the French national anthem.

Newsweek reported that leaflets had been distributed in advance, calling for violence against the Jews. The following clip from BFMTV shows French Interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve with what he claims is an example of such a leaflet.

This is unverifiable as no such leaflets have been viewed by Newsweek. But graffiti at a bus-stop called for protesters to demonstrate in the Jewish quarter, and bring "mortars, fire extinguishers and batons". See this video at 10.52 minutes.

The arguments over what happened in July will continue. But France's Jewish community remains traumatised. Mr Benhaim told Newsweek: "Four months later, the Jewish community is still in shock. As well as the events of July 13, there were those in Sarcelles, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Garges les Gonesse, Barbes, Montreuil and Lyon, where the real intention to assault Jews was evident.

"On a day-to-day basis we have excellent relations with our Muslims and Arab friends. But we who are French and Jewish do not understand why there is such wild violence in demonstrations to support the Palestinians when there is no reaction against what happens to Christians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria and Central Africa. Why is there no reaction for the victims in Syria, Egypt and Algeria? Why are there so many demonstrations against the Jewish state? Jewish people are very concerned about the situation here. They are thinking about their future in France, their country."

Will there ever be peace?

Because I know that Satan’s war against God fuels this conflict, I am certain Yeshua is the only hope for resolving the issues in this troubled region. Scripture instructs us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and promises God’s blessing on those who bless the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
(Genesis 12:3).

Let us pray that God will open the eyes and hearts of both Jewish people and Arabs to believe in Yeshua. He Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). Although complete peace seems unlikely before Yeshua’s return, personal peace and transformed lives will be the result as increasing numbers become Believers in the Middle East during these last days.

Postwar Refugee Crisis and the Establishment of the State of Israel

During World War II, the Nazis deported between seven and nine million Europeans, mostly to Germany. Within months of Germany's surrender in May 1945, the Allies repatriated to their home countries more than six million displaced persons (DPs wartime refugees). Between 1.5 million and two million DPs refused repatriation.

Most Jewish survivors, who had survived concentration camps or had been in hiding, were unable or unwilling to return to eastern Europe because of postwar antisemitism and the destruction of their communities during the Holocaust. Many of those who did return feared for their lives. In Poland, for example, locals initiated several violent pogroms. The worst was the one in Kielce in 1946 in which 42 Jews, all survivors of the Holocaust, were killed. These pogroms led to a significant second movement of Jewish refugees from Poland to the west.

Many Holocaust survivors moved westward to territories liberated by the western Allies. They were housed in displaced persons (DP camps and urban displaced persons centers. The Allies established such camps in Allied-occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy for refugees waiting to leave Europe. Most of the Jewish displaced persons were in the British occupation zone in northern Germany and in the American occupation zone in the south. The British established a large displaced persons camp adjacent to the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Several large camps holding 4,000 to 6,000 displaced persons each—Feldafing, Landsberg, and Foehrenwald—were located in the American zone.

Major camps for Jewish displaced persons, 1945-1946 - US Holocaust Memorial Museum

At its peak in 1947, the Jewish displaced person population reached approximately 250,000. While the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) administered all of the displaced persons camps and centers, Jewish displaced persons achieved a large measure of internal autonomy.

A variety of Jewish agencies were active in the displaced persons camps. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee provided refugees with food and clothing, and the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) offered vocational training. Jewish displaced persons also formed self-governing organizations, and many worked toward the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. There were central committees of Jewish displaced persons in the American and British zones which, as their primary goals, pressed for greater immigration opportunities and the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

In the United States, immigration restrictions strictly limited the number of refugees permitted to enter the country. The British, who had received a mandate from the League of Nations to administer Palestine, severely restricted Jewish immigration there largely because of Arab objections. Many countries closed their borders to immigration. Despite these obstacles, many Jewish displaced persons attempted to leave Europe as soon as possible.

The Jewish Brigade Group, formed as a unit within the British army in late 1944, worked with former partisans to help organize the Brihah (literally "escape"), the exodus of 250,000 Jewish refugees across closed borders from inside Europe to the coast in an attempt to sail for Palestine. The Mosad le-Aliyah Bet, an agency established by the Jewish leadership in Palestine, organized "illegal" immigration (Aliyah Bet) by ship. However, the British intercepted most of the ships.

In 1947, for example, the British stopped the Exodus 1947 at the port of Haifa. The ship had 4,500 Holocaust survivors on board, who were returned to Germany on British vessels. In most cases, the British detained the refugees—over 50,000—in detention camps on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The British use of detention camps as a deterrent failed, and the flood of immigrants attempting entry into Palestine continued.

The internment of Jewish refugees—many of them Holocaust survivors—turned world opinion against British policy in Palestine. The report of the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry in January 1946 led US president Harry Truman to pressure Britain into admitting 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine.

As the crisis escalated, the British government decided to submit the problem of Palestine to the United Nations (UN). In a special session, the UN General Assembly voted on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine into two new states, one Jewish and the other Arab, a recommendation that Jewish leaders accepted and the Arabs rejected.

After the British began the withdrawal of their military forces from Palestine in early April 1948, Zionist leaders moved to establish a modern Jewish state. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, announced the formation of the state of Israel, declaring,

"The Nazi Holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the reestablishment of the Jewish State, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations."

Holocaust survivors from displaced persons camps in Europe and from detention camps on Cyprus were welcomed into the Jewish homeland. Many of them fought in Israel's War of Independence in 1948 and 1949. In 1953, Yad Vashem (The Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority), the national institution for Holocaust commemoration, was established.