The Lovers of Zion The early history of the Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel involves a colorful cast of characters and gripping struggle. The Jews always had a presence in Israel, though it dwindled severely as a result of the Crusades. Revival began as the Spanish exiles re-established themselves in the Holy Land, and when the Ashkenazim began immigrating in the 1700's, the Jews became the majority population in Israel once again. In the 1860's, the Chovevei Tzion movement arose in Eastern Europe, promoting a mass return to Israel. Attracting both religious and secular Jews and the financial backing of Baron de Rothschild, this varied and idealistic group opened the doors for Zionism.
The New World The population explosion in Jewish Eastern Europe in the 19th century brought about a rise in anti-Semitism from which millions chose to flee. With memoirs from the immigrants who lived it, the dream of "Golden America" and disappointing realities come into focus.
The New AntiSemitism : The Dreyfus Trial The famed Dreyfus trial in which a Jewish officer in the French army was falsely accused of spying unleashed political forces in the world that the accused himself never understood. Though some prominent French journalists, most notably Emile Zola, decried this heinous miscarriage of justice, the virulent anti-Semitism that convicted Dreyfus would eventually destroy European Jewry.
Political Zionism Among the many journalists who covered the Dreyfus trial was Theodore Herzl, an assimilated Jew who, until the trial, accepted assimilation as the solution to anti-Semitism. Shocked at the violence of the crowd, Herzl concluded that in order to survive, Jews must leave Europe and establish their own state in the Land of Israel. Furthering the path set by the Chovevei Zion, he convened the first World Zionist Congress to determine how to implement his plan. Strange bedfellows were made amongst both the movement's supporters and its opponents, but the historical impact of Zionism is an indisputable fact of modern history.
The First Aliyah Zionism caught fire in many Jewish hearts, and in the years between 1881 and 1901, several thousand Jews immigrated to the Land of Israel. Rabbi Wein paints the picture of the struggles the early pioneers faced in farming arid, disease-ridden land amidst hostile Arab neighbors. But as their labor bore fruit, the hatred of the Arabs was only further exacerbated. Rabbi Wein concludes this memorable lecture with a reading of anti-Zionist propaganda, eerily reminiscent of the language of Hamas today.
Beilis, Kishinev, and the Kaiser History gains a human angle with factual illustrations which characterize the personalities of Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nikolai, cousins who led Europe into World War I. Amidst their ostenatious shows of military prowess, terrible crimes were perpetrated against the Jews. Rabbi Wein highlights two pivotal events, the Kishinev pogrom and the blood libel of Mendel Beilis, omens that the worst losses of World War I would be suffered by the Jews.
Zionism, Uganda and Palestine Like so many Jewish movements, the early Zionist Congresses were full of factions. When Britain offered the Jews the opportunity to colonize Uganda, Herzl wanted to accept, but he met with fierce opposition. Reading from the autobiography of Chaim Weizman, Rabbi Wein captures this dispute, including criticisms of Herzl for relying on the good will of Western powers, viewed as capricious at best. History resolved that argument, but a second, more persistent ideological war followed between the secularists and the Orthodox, creating rifts which unfortunately have yet to heal.
The Coming of the Great War The atmosphere in Europe in the years before World War I can be likened to an unlit powder keg of dynamite. The underlying tension between rivaling empires needed only slight provocation before exploding into war. But unknown to many, much in the same way that the First World War was the precursor to the Second, the ravages of the war uprooted hundreds of Jewish communities and set the patterns that would ultimately blaze into the Holocaust.
The First World War From the famed assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the intricate military tactics and errors, Rabbi Wein shows how the First World War changed the face of both world history and Jewish history. Between the battles on the Eastern front of Russia, which destroyed the infrastructure of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and England's battle with the Ottoman Empire, from which it ultimately gained control of Palestine, for better and worse, the Jews were irrevocably impacted by "the war to end all wars."
The Treaty of Versailles The peace treaty meant to settle World War I angered all sides and planted the seeds for the next war. Not only did the attempts to disarm Germany backfire with Hitler's rallying cry for vengeance, the divisions of the defeated Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires created countries harboring ancient ethnic rivalries. Caught in the middle of each and every conflict was the Jews. Yet this same treaty which caused so much damage offered the Jews one ray of hope. By mandating Palestine to British control, the Jews believed the Balfour Declaration would finally bear fruit and a Jewish State would be established at last.
British Mandate over Palestine The Balfour Declaration was a document full of contradictions. On one hand, it seemed to promise the Jews a national homeland, but stipulated that the Arabs must approve. Yet the League of Nations enforced it so that Britain controlled the Land of Israel. Reading from letters and court documents of the time, Rabbi Wein represents British sympathy to the Arabs and their maneuverings to undo their own promise. Through it all, the pictures of two Jewish leaders emerge: that of Sir Herbert Samuel, a traditional Jew and Lord High Commissioner of Palestine, and of the controversial Chief Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook.
The Third Aliyah The wave of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel in the 1920's shaped the character of the future state more than any other. Including such notables as Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, young idealists came and through back-breaking labor, turned the desert into a nation. But the Arabs would not accept this influx of Jews peaceably and began a campaign of terror, riots, and pogroms. Most tragically of all, the British response was therefore to restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine at a time when escape from Europe was becoming more and more of an imperative.
Jewish Europe Between the Wars With a country-by-country breakdown, Rabbi Wein depicts the unsettling period between the two world wars in which anti-Semitism was fomenting everywhere. Whether Jews lived in Russia where Stalin ruled, in Poland where laws restricting Torah observance were official government policy, or in Germany where Jews were the scapegoats for the country's defeat, their future was grim. Coupled with restrictions on immigration to Palestine and the United States, in these harrowing times, for the Jews there truly was no safe place to escape.
The Coming of Hitler Probably no other personality in history has brought about as much psychological speculation as Hitler's. Rabbi Wein's narrates the significant events in Hitler's life: his obsessive anti-Semitism, clear even in his early adolescence, his military service in World War I, and his growing political career. Though he spelled out his intentions quite plainly in Mein Kampf, people in power inside and outside Germany made the tragic miscalculation that they could control him, the result being twelve years of carnage unsurpassed in all of human history.
American Jewry before WW II Jewish integration into American life has been so successful, it is easy to forget that it came at a terrible cost. With historical fact and personal remembrances of his own years in public school, Rabbi Wein captures the pressures on Jews to assimilate into "the melting pot." Out of this environment grew the Conservative movement whose aim was to preserve traditional Judaism for fear it would disappear altogether. Though those dire predictions were wrong and Jews today can express their Jewishness freely, this lecture will remind every American Jew that even in the not-too-distant past, our existence here was not so rosy.
The Second World War World War II was the most destructive war in all of world history, and Rabbi Wein looks at it from a military point of view, outlining its most pivotal battles, from Hitler's initial invasion of Poland, to the blitzkrieg over England, and ultimately to the race to build the atom bomb. Also analyzing the strategies and miscalculations of the leaders and generals of the war years, listeners get a glimpse of the fear and passion that swept the world in the great effort to defeat Hitler.
Destruction of European Jewry Rabbi Wein opens this most serious of topics with an acknowledgment that no lecture can accurately depict all the horrors of the Holocaust or answer the nagging philosophical questions they raise. Nevertheless, Rabbi Wein demonstrates how Hitler's intense propaganda campaign created a genocidal environment. The German people became so desensitized to human life that the original anti-Jewish boycotts became anti-Jewish riots, and how riots descended yet further into the mass shootings by the einzatzgruppen and ultimately, into indescribable torture and the killing camps.
Guilt and Horror After the world saw the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, they realized it was a blot against them. For a brief time, therefore, public opinion of the Jews was relatively positive. But the Jews had more battles to fight. War refugees were desperate to enter Palestine, but England was doing its best to appease the Arabs and turn them away. This earned them censure in the Western World, and under pressure, England agreed to leave Palestine and let the UN determine its future. The spectacular events that followed, on both the diplomatic and military fronts, culminated in the creation of the State of Israel.
The State of Israel The theological significance of the Jews' gaining a state of their own is hotly debated until today, but wherever you stand on the issue, the urgency of the times rings through loud and clear as Rabbi Wein describes the battles of the War of Independence and the Jewish victory against monumental odds.
The Ingathering of Exiles In its incipient years, hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated to Israel, most of whom were refugees from the Holocaust or from Arab-dominated countries. While the fledgling state began to absorb these new immigrants, some of whom had never seen such basics as indoor plumbing, its leaders also struggled to get the government, military, and economy up and running. Though some of the early problems have persisted and will seem ironically familiar, many others were met and solved with acumen that will both astonish and impress.
The Sinai Campaign Once Israel had won its War of Independence, the world sympathy that had granted the Jews a national homeland proved to be short-lived. General Nasser of Egypt, with a vision of a Pan-Arab empire with himself at the helm, launched a campaign of terrorism and shelling on Israel. By 1956, Israel took a pre-emptive strike against Nasser and invaded the Sinai Desert, reaching the Suez Canal within four days. Under world pressure, Israel was forced to withdraw and gained no protection for itself anyway. Especially in light of current events, Ben Gurion's criticism that this was a "wasted war" becomes abundantly clear.
The Changing Face of Jewish Life This inspiring lecture, full of Rabbi Wein's anecdotes and personal remembrances, illustrates the massive assimilation of Jews worldwide after the Holocaust. Yet somehow, in spite of it all, the surviving Torah leaders of Eastern Europe took on the rebuilding of the Jewish people as their personal mission. Rabbi Wein tells the stories of his acquaintance with such gedolim as Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the Satmar Rebbe, and Rabbi Joseph Breuer, which will stir the heart of any listener.
The Six Day War Perhaps the most euphoric moment in Israeli history was the recapture of the Old City. With the original live news broadcast of the IDF soldiers at the Western Wall and Rabbi Wein's personal recollections, both the terror and the victory come to life.
The Yom Kippur War The years immediately after the victory of the Six Day War were marked by optimism, not only in Israel, but amongst Jews worldwide. Russian Jews were released from behind the Iron Curtain and immigration to Israel grew stronger. But the defeated Arabs were recouping their losses and in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973, devastated the Israeli army. Though Israel miraculously staved off the attack, the war cost thousands in casualties and death. Moreover, it created a sea change in Israeli attitude, a rise in pessimism and insecurity that continues to trouble us to this day.
The Struggle for Survival The political "earthquake" that shook Israel after the Yom Kippur War toppled the Labor government and replaced it with Menachem Begin and the Likud. Just as the conservative Nixon made peace with China, it took right-wing Begin to give back the Sinai Desert for the sake of peace. This lecture, given in 1987, grapples with the issues of the peace process and settlements back then, and the perspective of those years is particularly enlightening. Most moving of all, however, is Rabbi Wein's electrifying conclusion about the Jews place in history.