Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and, after forty years in the desert, brought them to the Promised Land. In the sixth century B.C., the Babylonians overran their land, demolished their Temple, sold many Israelites into slavery, and drove the rest into exile. After the Baylonians were defeated by the Persians, many Jews returned and rebuilt the Temple. But, in the first century A.D., the Romans destroyed the entire city of Jerusalem and, once again, drove out all the Jews who weren’t sold into slavery. After being forced from their homeland for the second time, the Jewish people dispersed throughout the Middle East and what later became known as Europe.
Distrust of outsiders was common then and, wherever the exiled Israelites went, they were ostracized by the local population. European Jews were not permitted to own land, or to work in any agriculture-related field, or to hold any job that required membership in a trade guild. Well into the 19th century, they were forced by law to live in ghettos, and throughout the 19th century, they were victims of pogroms. In the 20th century, they were rounded up and sent to death camps by the Nazis, with the goal of ultimately exterminating the entire Jewish race.
But the Ashkenazi Jews were neither destroyed nor defeated. The ordeals they endured strengthened their resolve to not only survive, but to overcome and rise above their circumstances. They reacted to persecution and oppression by developing a culture of determined self-reliance and dedication to personal achievement, along with helping and encouraging each other. When Jewish children were prohibited from attending public schools, the Jews formed their own schools in the ghettos and tutored their children themselves. Being barred from trades and agriculture, the few professions open to them required skills in math and business, so education was a high priority.
After six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust, many of the survivors left Europe never to return. The land that is now Israel was an arid desert then, undeveloped, and thought by many to be undevelopable. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, that entire area was divided up by the United Nations to establish the current Arab states. The area called the Palestinian Territory was set up as a British Mandate, as it was not a part of any nation, and had no government of its own. Because this area was sparsely populated, and because of the historical connection, it was determined to be the most viable place to establish a homeland for the displaced Jews. The founders of the new Israeli nation offered automatic citizenship to any who were living there who desired to stay, and cautioned that those who left would not be permitted to return and claim citizenship later. Many Arabs did stay and became full Israeli citizens, but many fled out of fear and ignorance, believing the propaganda spread by the neighboring Arab states.
The surrounding Arab states vehemently objected to having a Jewish state in their midst. They swore that “Israel will be wiped off the map” and “every Jew will be driven into the sea.” They immediately set about attacking Israel, bombarding it from every border, forcing the Israelis to defend their existence from the very start, even as they struggled to build a new nation. But the Jews had learned a hard lesson in Europe, and they understood what it meant to either fight or die. This time, they were prepared to fight back. They were already accustomed to hardship, and brought with them a culture of diligent perseverance. They relentlessly pursued their dream of establishing a land of freedom and Democracy in the middle of the unforgiving desert. Though continually beset with wars and terrorism, against seemingly insurmountable odds, they managed to build a new nation, with modern cities and a thriving agricultural and high tech-economy, where previously there was nothing but poverty and sand. But still, they’re surrounded by enemies on all sides, who seek the destruction of their nation, and they live in constant vigilance against terrorist attacks.
Not all the Jews who fled Europe went to Israel. A great many came to the United States. Though many had lost everything in the Holocaust, and came here with little or no possessions, they brought with them their culture of survival and self-sufficiency, their strong work ethic and belief in education as the road to progress. Those values served them well in this land of freedom and opportunity. Like every other immigrant group, they started out huddling together in ghettos. But the Jews had had enough of ghettos in Europe, and were quick to realize the value of assimilation. They had no sense of entitlement to anything from anybody, but were grateful for the opportunity to earn an honest living in whatever way they could, and to educate their children, and reap the rewards of their own efforts. They fit right in with the American ideal, eager to leverage every opportunity. They made sure their children got the best educations they could, and with each successive generation, they worked their way higher up the socio-economic ladder.
But still there are people who, out of envy or ignorance, resent the Jews for the very successes they fought so hard to achieve, and find excuses to dismiss their accomplishments or accuse them of having “unfair advantages.” Such is human nature.