http://JewishHistory.org Faith and Fate is a documentary telling the story of the Jews in the 20th Century.
The first Episode is called, "The Dawn of the Century" and covers 1900 - 1910.
This episode introduces the uniqueness of Jewish history in the 20th century within the
context of world history. At the turn of the 20th century, Jews were scattered across the
globe, representing only ¼ of one percent of the worlds population. It was a time of
empires, imperial rule and colonial expansionism. In Russia the masses, including the
Jews, lived in dire poverty which was compounded by grassroots antisemitism. In 1905
the Russian masses revolted and there was a general strike. On Bloody Sunday the
Czar responded with force. The Czar did not abdicate until 1917, which is typically the
date given for the second Russian Revolution, which, in turn, led to increased pogroms
against the Jews. The pogroms and the economic conditions forced approximately
40% of Jewish population to leave the Russian Empire and go to Western countries
including the United States and to Palestine and other countries as far away as South
Africa and Australia.
Emigration and the Enlightenment presented Jews with the dilemma and opportunity to
maintain or reject their traditional Jewish upbringing, and many decided to forgo their
traditional Judaism and blend in with their larger non-Jewish society. Within the
traditional Jewish world, change was occurring as well, with the rise and acceptance of
the Mussar Movement, an ethical approach to Judaism. Because Jews were not
allowed into institutions of higher education in Eastern Europe, most of them went to
study in yeshivas to sharpen their intellect. The traditional yeshiva, unintentionally,
became a breeding ground for all philosophies, Jewish and secular alike. Zionism
grew as a national movement, and was led by secular Jews antithetical to traditional
Judaism. While most rabbis rejected Zionism and its leaders, because of their
nontraditional beliefs, a minority of rabbis developed religious Zionism, which combined
traditional Judaism with Zionist philosophy. The Old Yishuv Jews, who had settled in
Palestine in the late 1800s, were committed to traditional Judaism and rejected
secular, nationalistic ideas of the New Yishuv Zionists.
The Sephardic Jews living in Moslem and Arab countries at the turn of the 20th
Century maintained their own rich Jewish traditions and heritage, which often differed
from those of the Ashkenazim. There was relative peace within the Jewish community
and among the leadership in these Arab and Moslem countries, and although life was
sometimes difficult, these Sephardic Jews did not experience, by and large, pogroms
or the influences of the Enlightenment or Reform Judaism.
In Europe, Jews were the leaders of the Labor and Socialist movements and
spearheaded the establishment of labor unions in America. The challenge of
assimilation in the United States was the greatest difficulty confronting Jewish
immigrants. Attempts were made to stem the tide. Reform Judaism became a symbol
of acceptance into modern American society and Dr. Solomon Schechter initiated the
Universal Synagogue movement which became Conservative Judaism. Also
Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish immigrants had to find their respective places within
the Jewish community and in their new host country, the United States, as well..
A small, strong group of American Jewish immigrants managed to cling to their Jewish
traditions and adapt themselves to the new reality in America. Meanwhile, for Jews
around the world, with the threat of WWI looming, the imperial race for supremacy was