Since I am Jewish, I read with interest “A Prepper’s Holiday” by C.E.B.  (posted March 7th), in which the author described what he has learned by observing the Old Testament holidays of Passover and Sukkot.
It occurred to me that Jewish history and culture – being largely a five-thousand year track record of survival against all odds – actually has quite a few lessons that would be relevant to SurvivalBlog readers of all faiths. Here are a few.
1) WHEN IN DOUBT, GET OUT
In 1941, Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. At the time, my grandmother and her family were living in a small town in the Ukraine, not terribly far from the Soviet border. The Stalinist propaganda machine, of course, assured the populace that the German army would be crushed with ease. However, one of my grandmother’s uncles was a senior member in the local Communist Party, and had a clearer view of reality. He gathered the family together one evening and told them that it was very likely that the Nazis would reach their town, with devastating consequences to the inhabitants. He spread out a map of the USSR, and pointed to a small province much farther east: the Uzebek SSR (now called Uzbekistan). “You have to go there,” he said. “Hitler will never get that far.”
Having suffered through generations of persecution and “pogroms” (anti-Jewish riots, often conducted with the approval of police and political authorities), they had every reason to believe him. So, they quietly packed up and moved to Uzbekistan, where they waited out World War II far removed from the death camps and other atrocities of the Third Reich and the Stalin regime.
Fast-forward to today: while the mass media assures us that the recession will be over any day now, folks like SurvivalBlog’s Captain Rawles are busy telling anyone who will listen that heading for the hills would be a very smart idea.
If you wait until you hear the sound of jackboots on cobblestones, it will be too late. The time to get out of town is now. As American poet Robinson Jeffers wrote, “When the cities lie at the feet of the beast, the mountains will remain.”
2) NEVER TRUST POLITICIANS
Even well-meaning politicians can easily be influenced to implement terrible policies. This is illustrated perfectly by the Book of Esther, which is commemorated by the Jewish holiday of Purim.
To make a long story short, a beautiful Jewish girl named Esther is selected to be the wife of King Ahasuerus. Aware of anti-Jewish sentiment in the King’s court, she keeps her heritage a secret. Esther is an orphan, and her guardian is her older cousin Mordechai. While visiting Esther at the palace, Mordechai offends Haman, the king’s chief adviser, by refusing to bow to him. Mordechai explains that he will prostrate himself before God, but not to a man – even the King.
Enraged, Haman tells the king that the Jews do not follow the law of the land (which states that everyone must bow to the king), and suggests that they be executed. The king, being a typical politician, agrees.
Haman gleefully makes plans for soldiers to go out and exterminate the entire Jewish population of the kingdom in a few days. For Mordechai, against whom he has a special grudge, Haman sets up an impaling pole.
Queen Esther finds out what’s happening, and decides to risk her own life for the sake of her people. Through some high drama involving a banquet and a secret plot against the king (which Mordechai exposes), the king winds up offering Esther anything she desires. She asks him to spare her life, and the lives of her people. Outraged that someone would threaten his queen, the king quickly discovers what Haman has been up to, gives Esther the authority to overturn Haman’s orders, has Haman impaled on his own pole, and gives Haman’s estate to Mordechai.
With that story in mind, consider the fact that West Point’s “Combating Terrorism Center” recently released a report entitled “Challengers from the Sidelines,” which classifies “the ‘Militia’ or ‘Patriot’ movement” as part of the American “violent far-right,” describing its members as dangerous extremists who promote “anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist practices, and libertarian ideas,” and who “support civil activisms, individual freedoms, and self-government.” Of course, this describes perfectly the interests and ideals of all of America’s founding fathers, but that irony is apparently lost on the scholars at West Point.
A variety of other quasi-governmental reports have made similar allegations. In other words, just as Haman (and, of course, Adolf Hitler) twisted the facts to classify Jews as enemies of the state, these so-called “think tanks” are twisting the facts to classify the typical, security-and-freedom-loving SurvivalBlog reader as a terrorist-in-waiting. Since our politicians are engaged in a never-ending War on Terror, it’s a very small step to you or me finding ourselves being treated to the indefinite detention, torture and summary execution that the US government has established as being appropriate for terrorists.
3) BE READY TO FIGHT
The traditional narrative of the Holocaust is that the Jews went meekly to the death camps, like lambs to the slaughter. In reality, many Jews fought, guerilla-style, against Nazi troops in the streets and alleys of Europe.
One of the most remarkable of these Jewish guerillas was a young man named Imi Lichtenfeld, who was a champion boxer, wrestler and gymnast in his native Slovakia. As the tide of anti-Semitism began to sweep Europe in the 1930s, Lichtenfeld and his fellow Jewish athletes banded together to defend their communities from the increasingly violent attacks of Jew-hating gangs. Lichtenfeld quickly discovered the difference between combat sports and life-or-death brawling, and developed his own fighting system, which he taught to his compatriots.
Seeing the writing on the wall in 1940, he left Slovakia and served with distinction in the Free Czech legion in North Africa. He spent the remainder of his long life in the newly-established State of Israel, teaching his system – Krav Maga – to the Israeli Defense Forces.
The moral of this story is not only that Krav Maga is one of the most practical and combat-proven self-defense systems in the world, but that having the WILL to fight is just as important as having the ABILITY to fight. In the Jewish tradition, life is viewed as a gift from God. Therefore, to allow your life or the life of another to be taken, if it is in your power to prevent it, is actually disrespectful to God. My understanding is that, with the exception of certain pacifist denominations, most Christians agree with that rationale. Therefore, we must be ready to act, without hesitation, to defend ourselves and our loved ones, and must do so in the certainty that self-defense is not only a moral right, it is a moral obligation.
4) THE LAW IS YOUR FRIEND, UNTIL IT ISN’T
In medieval Spain, there was a period – from about the eighth to the eleventh centuries – called “La Convivencia” – “the coexistence.” During this time, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in relative peace and prosperity, freely associating with each other and openly exchanging knowledge of medicine, philosophy and commerce. As you might expect, the members of all three communities benefited from this interaction. Although there were certain social barriers in place, in principle everyone was protected by the law.
That pleasant situation gradually deteriorated, and many Jews and Muslims converted to Christianity to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be had serious doubts about the sincerity of these conversions, and in 1481, the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was formed to root out and punish “heresy.” Overnight, the law went from protector to persecutor. Anyone with a grudge against a neighbor could accuse that person of being a “crypto-Jew,” and report them to the Inquisition. Thousands of innocent people – many of whom weren’t Jews at all – were imprisoned, tortured, and then hanged or burned at the stake.
Christians today face similar persecution in many middle-Eastern countries, where being openly a non-Muslim is seen as a crime, and sometimes a capital offense (witness the murders of Copts in Egypt, for example). In fact, the only middle-Eastern country where Christians can worship openly and in safety is in Israel – the Jewish state. But leaving aside religion for a moment, consider the bigger picture: anything can become a crime, just because the government says so. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that a black person who drank from a “whites-only” water fountain was a criminal in this country. It is because “law” does not necessarily mean “justice” that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
When the Department of Homeland Security stockpiles hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition (according to one report enough to keep our troops in Iraq supplied for 20 years) one is forced to wonder exactly whom our “representatives” expect to become criminals – or, to put it another way, whom they plan to CALL criminals. We all love law and order, but – God forbid – if the day ever comes that the law of the land is no longer our friend, we must be prepared to do the RIGHT thing, even if it is not the LAWFUL thing.
5) COMMUNITY IS THE KEY TO SURVIVAL
Being part of a community means looking out for each other. It is this trait – more than any other (with the exception of Divine intervention) – that explains why the Jews have outlived the Ancient Egyptians, Philistines, Persians, Phoenicians, Romans, and every other culture that tried to stamp them out.
From the 40 years of wandering in the desert, after escaping from slavery in Egypt, to the Diaspora, when Jews were forced out of almost every country in Europe, to the Holocaust, to today, if a Jew needs a hand, other Jews will help him. And Jews are not alone in this: you see the same thing, for example, in the Latino community: if a Mexican immigrant opens a restaurant, other Mexicans will go there to eat. Or consider the informal fraternity of military veterans: if a newly-retired Marine applies for a job, and the business owner is also a retired Marine, odds are the younger Devil Dog has a good chance of getting the position. Historically, church congregations have also helped their less-fortunate members in times of illness, unemployment and hardship.
This may sound like simple human nature, but in some neighborhoods, the opposite is true: if a person opens a laundromat, his neighbors will break his windows and vandalize his machines. And, from an outside perspective, community solidarity is often criticized as conspiracy or clannishness. The folks at the Aryan Nation meetings certainly aren’t thrilled to see Jews and Mexicans supporting their own communities. They recognize – in their own twisted way – that Malcolm X was exactly right in his assertion that, “when you spend your dollar out of the community in which you live, the community in which you spend your money becomes richer and richer, [and] the community out of which you take your money becomes poorer and poorer.”
The job that went to a Marine, the meal bought from a Mexican immigrant, the suit bought from a Jewish clothier, or the housing given to a frail parishioner, represents dollars that did NOT leave the communities in which those people live. Is it wrong to give preferential treatment to members of your community? To “your own kind”? By the politically-correct, non-judgmental, morally ambivalent logic of modern thinking, yes it is.
According to the voice of history, experience, and common sense, no, it absolutely is not! If we do not support our own communities – however that term is meaningful to ourselves – we are in fact harming them. If you, retired USMC Captain, don’t give that young Sergeant a chance, who will? If you, Juan, buy lunch at McDonald’s instead of at the neighborhood Taqueria, whom are you helping? As Malcolm X explained, “And then what happens? The community in which you live becomes a slum. It becomes a ghetto. The conditions become rundown. And then you have the audacity to complain about poor housing in a rundown community, while you’re running down yourselves when you take your dollar out.”
Rabbi Hillel, a famous Jewish scholar who was a contemporary of Jesus, famously asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Those questions have been food for thought for 2,000 years, and they are as pertinent today as ever. If you don’t look out for yourself, who will? But if you only look out for yourself, and ignore your community, your society or the Earth, what kind of person does that make you? If you put off meaningful action, how will you know when to act? All of us – regardless of race, creed, color, or background – must be willing to answer those questions honestly. We must be willing to protect ourselves, to support our communities, to recognize the dangers in our society, and to respond accordingly. And if we have not yet begun, we must do so now.