An Ancient Trail of Tears

Once more the little country had been invaded by a military superpower.
The capital city had held out for 2 1/2 years, but the enemy had finally broken through. Homes, public buildings and places of worship had been looted and demolished. All was fire, famine and destruction. Now its soldiers were rounding up many of the citizens for a long trek, separating neighbor from neighbor, brother from brother, parent from child. The skilled, the educated, the able-bodied, had been selected, and with too little time to settle their affairs or make their farewells, were captive and on the march into exile. How, they wondered, could their way of life survive in a distant, foreign land?
The superpower’s government intended to harness the creative gifts and the skills of these artisans, soldiers and scholars for the betterment of its own country. This plan worked. But in a generation or two, another government opened the border and allowed those who wished it, to go back. Some did. More remained, having established families and businesses and now even speaking the language of their adopted country. They flourished. They became scientists, philosophers, scholars, doctors, merchants and bankers. Outstanding religious writings still looked to throughout the world were a product of their many generations in this place.
Yet, in our lifetime, 2500 years after that forced march, their descendants once again put together the few belongings they were allowed to take, and scattered all over the world. Leaving behind homes, businesses and investments, they found their way to China, India, Europe, Israel, and North and South America. This diaspora separated the members of many families, dispersing them wherever they could find welcome.
This was the Babylonian Captivity, when in 586 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, taking back with him hundreds of its citizens. Their sojourn in Babylon ended upon the formation of the state of Israel, when Babylon, now Iraq, fearing their allegiance to the new state, saw to it that all but a few aged and unthreatening Jews went elsewhere speedily.
From the beginning of that long-ago journey came the first of many well- known writings: the 137th Psalm. “By the rivers of Babylon…”


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