Judi's Journal 09-02-2011

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World Jewish population: Where we live

By Judi Siegal

Jews are a Semitic people originating in Mesopotamia, in the area of the Fertile Crescent. The first patriarch was Abraham, a wandering desert sheik who converted his whole household to the belief in one single Deity. He lived about 3,500 years ago in an area in what is now modern Iraq. After the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites (today’s Jews) settled in an area we know as Israel but which in ancient times are named Canaan, the Promised Land of the Bible. Since the early Israelites were farmers or herders they lived together within their respective tribes in Canaan with Jerusalem being the focus of their spiritual life.
Enter the Babylonians. In 586 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Israelites and they were exiled to Babylonia. This was the beginning of what was to be called The Diaspora, the exile of Jews who eventually found their way to different countries all over the world. Though the Jews were eventually able to return to their homeland when King Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians, not all returned, many had found homes and comfortable living outside of the Holy Land.
The final blow came in 70 AD when the Romans burned Jerusalem and captured Judea as the land was then called. Until the independence of the modern State of Israel in 1948, Jews were a ‘wandering nation” with no homeland to call their own.
So where did they go? Some went to Asia or Europe. Many assimilated into the native populations. Many were welcome into countries that could use their skills. And other times they were forced out because of religious persecution. Wherever Jews settled, they helped to prosper their host countries, often forming the middle and upper middle class. They were merchants, scholars, doctors, teachers and small businessmen. They built synagogues and schools and Jewish social service institutions. They advised kings and caliphs and ministered to the sick of the royal families. And they helped finance wars and exploratory ventures in the New World.
Never a conquering or war-like people, the Jews have nevertheless managed to survive even after the Holocaust decimated 6 million of their members. Today the worldwide Jewish population stands at an estimated 13 million people. As we will see, Jews tend to settle around major cities where cultural, educational and commercial opportunities are greatest.
Countries with large Jewish populations include: United States (6.5 million), Israel (5.1 million), Russia, (717,000) France, (606,561) Argentina (595,379) Canada (393,660), United Kingdom (303,207), Brazil (295,125) Ukraine (142,276), Germany (107,160) and South Africa (88,688). Those with 30,000 or more include Belarus, Hungary, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Moldova, Uruguay and Italy. The least populated countries with under 1,000 total Jewish populations include Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Armenia, Uganda, Portugal, Luxembourg and Bolivia. (source: Nationamaster.com)
As would be expected, major cities in countries with large Jewish populations are the areas in which most Jews live. Jerusalem, Moscow, greater Paris, Tel Aviv and environs, Toronto, Buenos Aires, London, and St. Petersburg all have Jewish populations well in excess of 100,000. (source: Jewish Yearbook, London (2005) and American Jewish Yearbook, 2008)
In the United States, highly populated states include, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, D.C. and environs, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio and California. Least populated states include Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and Montana. These states have such small Jewish populations that if you lived there, you would probably know every Jew in the state! Major cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Houston, Hartford, Baltimore, Detroit, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Atlanta and others are major centers of Jewish culture and religion.
Our own state of Florida has the third largest Jewish population (653,435) in the country. (source: Jewish virtual library.com). According to the American Jewish Yearbook, 2008, South Florida leads the way with Broward County 170,700, Boca Raton-Delray 107,500, Miami-Dade County, 106,300 and Palm Beach County, not including Boca Raton 101,350. Our cities to the north and south, that is Gainesville and Orlando, contain populations of 2,500 and 20,700 respectively. I could not find statistics on Ocala or Citrus County but based on the number of affiliated Jews with synagogues and Jewish groups I would guestimate the population of Ocala/Marion County to be 1,500, while Citrus could have under 1,000. Again, these are not substantiated amounts but rough estimates; I could be under or over.
Jewish tradition holds that we are scattered all over the world so that our influence for good and our ideas of social justice, mercy, compassion and living righteously would be a model for the nations to follow.
Wherever Jews have lived, they have enriched the cultures they have lived amongst, even as they have adopted new ideas from their host countries and integrated them into Judaism. Since the State of Israel, the term “wandering Jew,” has become an anachronism but there is no doubt in my mind, that when humans land on Mars, there will be a Jewish astronaut on board who will probably open a kosher deli with food literally “out of this world!”