The Jewish people total around 16 million souls, less than .1 percent of the earth’s population. If not for innumerable persecutions over the past 3,500 years, the People of Israel would number in the hundreds of millions. The Jewish people’s miraculous survival and triumph over baseless hatred and destruction are defined by just three words: Am Yisrael Chai! Which means the People (Am), of Israel (Yisrael), live (chai)!
The great American author Mark Twain said of the Jewish people’s remarkable ability to defy history:
“Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of…He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished….All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Judaism has an answer to Mark Twain’s question. The Torah teaches that no matter how deep the Jewish soul is buried, it retains an unbreakable connection to God which yearns to express itself. This yearning goes back to the the Book of Genesis in the Bible. After a decades long separation from his family with no news of his father Israel’s welfare, Joseph asks his brothers, “Is my father (Israel) alive?” (Genesis 45:3) Clearly, separation could not break the connection.
This connection survived even in post-World War II Stalinist Russia where Soviet Jewry faced massive religious persecution and Jewish life could only be practiced underground. In the face of the 6,000,000 Jewish souls that perished during the horrors of the Holocaust, Soviet Jews feared for the fate of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the Iron Curtain. In a courageous display of solidarity, Golda Meir’s arrival as Israel’s ambassador to Russia on October 4, 1948 was met by tens of thousands of Soviet Jews crowded around Moscow’s Great Synagogue, risking imprisonment or worse to celebrate their Jewish identity and catch a glimpse of this emissary from the newly-born Jewish state.
In 1965, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry asked Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, one of this past century’s most influential Jewish folk singers and spiritual leaders to compose a song to give strength to Russian Jews facing oppression. In response, Rabbi Carlbach wrote “Am Yisrael Chai,” the People of Israel live!
Am Yisrael Chai became the anthem of Soviety Jewry’s struggle for emancipation from anti-religious oppression and is still sung worldwide by the People of Israel as a rallying cry for Jewish life to continue and thrive.
Author: Eitan Press, staff writer for United with Israel
Date: Oct 7, 2013