Imagine, if you will, the difference between a homeland visit by Julius Caesar and one by Moses.
Julius Caesar disembarks at Aeroporti di Roma in Italy and immediately senses that something is amiss. The people don’t speak his language. The local religion is entirely different. And Rome is no longer the cultural capital of the world. He has nothing in common with the people of his land.
At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the scene unfolds very differently. An elderly Moses steps out of an airplane. He is overcome with emotion as his foot touches Israel’s soil for the first time. Having led his nation through the desert for forty years and then dying without reaching the Promised Land, Moses finally has made it.
“Shalom,” says a young, Russian-born airport worker who approaches him to offer help.
“Shalom,” replies Moses, amazed that the language spoken in this wondrously modern place is the same one he spoke thousands of years ago. He notices a group of men praying in a corner of the airport. As he approaches them, he sees that each is wearing Tefillin and a Tallis. After they finish praying, Moses talks with them and examines their religious articles. They are the same as those he prescribed at Mt. Sinai.
Over three thousand years separate these men. One was born in Egypt; the others in Moscow, Ethiopia, New York, Casablanca, Bombay, Sydney, Paris, and Johannesburg. Yet they share the same language, faith, tradition, and life view. Moses turns his face toward Heaven and shouts, “Blessed is the Almighty, that my people are still alive!”
The Jewish nation has outlived empire after empire of would-be persecutors. Ancient Egypt, Persia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome-where are they now?
What is the miracle of Jewish survival?
It is our unified Jewish faith, history, and heritage.
We have survived throughout the ages because of the unbroken chain of our heritage. When the 25th of Kislev comes, the first Chanukah light is kindled in Leningrad and Helsinki, Melbourne and Ottawa. Jews all over the world come together to make the same blessing. On the 15th of Nissan all Jews sit together at a Passover seder. We eat the same food, the same matzoh. Some recite the whole Haggadah, some a summary of it, and others sing a few songs.
Three thousand three hundred years is a long time to keep the same menu.