A few days ago, a new official count was released of the number of Jews in the world: 14.7 million. That’s not exactly “sand on the seashore” levels.
Seventy five years have passed since the end of the Shoah, and still we have not returned to our 1939 high of 16.6 million. In three generations, we have replaced little more than half the tally of those who went up in smoke.
The Nazis did not only deprive humanity of additional Jews. Given the staggering Jewish contributions to civilization, there can be no doubt that vast potential creativity was also obliterated. Who can tell? Could it be that the grandparents of the individual who might have been the one to conquer corona virus were murdered at Dachau? We will never know. This much is certain: we can barely comprehend the extent of our losses. How right the Mishna was to teach that the destruction of one life represents the destruction of a whole world of possibility.
There is, however, a second story hidden in the numbers. It is a story not of the Jewish past, but of the Jewish future.
It’s this: the statistics reveal that the overwhelming majority of Jews live either in Israel or the US, with 6.7 million in Israel and 5.7 million in the US. Take another look at those numbers. That’s right: Today – on Yom Ha’Atzmaut 2020 – Israel is now home to one million more Jews than live in the US. It is probably the first time in history that one million more Jews reside in the homeland of the Jewish people than in the next biggest Jewish community.
And here’s what comes next: current trends show that US Jewish numbers are declining, while Jewish numbers in Israel are growing. In approximately five years, we will arrive at the extraordinary milestone where fifty percent of the world’s Jews will live in Israel. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the percentage of the world’s Jews who live in Israel will continue to rise steadily as the century progresses.
What does this all mean? It means that – though few in number – we have defied all those who have sought to destroy us, and we have taken our future into our own hands. It means that whereas the twentieth century was the American Jewish century, the twenty first century will be the Israeli Jewish century. It means that for the first time since the days of the Bible, the Jewish majority will soon live in the land of Israel. It means that Zionism has been a monumental success – it has brought the Jewish people home to take its place among the nations once again. It means that we are experiencing an extraordinary period in Jewish history. And it means that, wherever we might dwell, we have much to celebrate this Yom Ha’Atzmaut.