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Max Roytenberg: 2018-Here's To Life

by Max Roytenberg, January 1, 2018


In Hebrew, numbers can be represented by letters, the ancient way the Hebrews communicated numbers before the Arabic script was adopted. Among many Jews the number 18 is a favorite because the letters that represent it also mean “life”. Maybe because there are so many people out there who wish Jews dead, have wished Jews dead, are wishing Jews dead, the word life is something we get quite excited about. So the year 2018 is something really special for us with its message of twenty times LIFE.

In Jewish writings, it is said that someone who has saved a life, it is as if they have saved the whole world. Can’t a whole nation from just two? In the Jewish culture such a thing is a primary value. Is that why so many Jews end up as doctors and researchers seeking to extend our lives? Is that why so many life-saving discoveries seem to have Jewish names attached to them.(From finding answers to syphilis to polio, to lasers, pacemakers and recombinant DNA, the list goes on and on.) Saving lives is a recurring Jewish theme.

Israel is a tiny country. At its inception, with little more than a half million residents, just after World War II, it threw its borders open to Jews from anywhere in the world who needed a refuge. More than a million new residents were absorbed in a few years. I remember something of the sacrifices the people made to do this. There were resettlement camps all over the country. In 1952, when I spent a year in the country, it was common for me to sit down for a meal, and rise afterward still hungry. Everything was in short supply. All the while Israel was subject to immediate threat from the actions of hostile neighbors.

Another million came from their millennia-old Middle-eastern habitations when the Arab nations expelled them with only the shirts on their backs in sixty-seven. Still another million came from Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed and they finally opened their borders. Israel welcomed them all.

Today, there is no place in the world that life-saving teams from Israel will not go to, if they are welcome, when disaster strikes. This country of almost nine million, (75% Jewish, 20% Arab Moslem, 5% Christian) often has its teams first on the scene and they are the last to go. Israel is in a state of war with Gaza, with Syria, with Lebanon, but their sick and damaged often find their way into Israel for life-saving surgeries. Israel even equipped a hospital in Syria with the latest equipment for birthing mothers.

They are still in Puerto Rico in rich America. Their teams are all over Africa, Asia and Central and South America, bringing the latest technology in energy generation, water conservation, agricultural development and basic medical techniques, where they are needed. Why are they in this business when, with their scarce resources and tiny population, they are surrounded on all sides by condemnation, boycotts and physical threat? The priorities these actions speak to are those which save and improve lives wherever a contribution can be made.

For a people with thousands of years of history, Jews are very few in number, currently estimated at about fifteen million, 0.00013% of the world’s population. Josephus has written that, in Roman times, (about two thousand years ago,) Jews made up about ten per cent of the population of the Empire, then with an estimated number of one hundred million. It is obvious that the depradations of history have kept numbers small. That’s another reason that each life is so precious. There are so few of us. It has been estimated that the gene pool for Western European Jews stems from as small a group as twenty-seven thousand. We are inbred, which is the reason we have some commonly appearing genetic tendencies to certain diseases.

This is not about Jews. I am talking about the prioritization of the well-being of humans above all things. The point of all this is the celebration of life in all of its manifestations. This is all about all of us putting our priorities where they belong. This is about putting the advancement of the human race first and foremost before other things, before adherence to any creed. I am talking about searching out the things we share in common and turning our backs on the things that will divide us, one from the other. Those are the things that we have to root out if we have to, to achieve this goal.

This is not about living for the future but improving life in the present, in the every-day. Small steps lead to bigger steps and make the small steps worthwhile. Focusing on the things that will make life better for a few will be the start for making life better for the many.

That is the exciting thing about the world we live in now. We are learning so many new things. So many good things are happening, and we have to find the means of sharing these things with the less fortunate so their lives will be improved as well.

Who knows where the human race is going? Will we survive as flesh and blood or will we end up as a material-electromechanical combination capable of traversing the universe through timeless space? What will persist, what must persist, is that spark that differentiates us from the chemicals and minerals of which we are made. We are not just an electrical charge. It is in that spark representing life in each of us that we find the capacity to care about others. We are the package of emotions and feelings that opts for life and living, for children and tomorrows, for existence, not just in the future, but in the now.

We are for LIFE! 

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