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    The attraction of Goshen – Va’era

    Goshen, where the Hebrews settled with royal sanction, is situated on marshy pastures in the north-east of Egypt.

    The Pharaoh who allocated this area to Joseph’s family was probably a descendant of the Semitic invaders of Egypt who presumably would have felt some affinity to the Hebrews.

    For his part, Joseph was happy to settle his family in Goshen as it was near the frontier and it would allow them to leave the country more easily. It would also make it easier for them to retain their distinctive customs and character.

    In later Jewish history Jews could not always choose the area where they settled when they immigrated to a new country. Often there was chain migration whereby they sought to join relatives or neighbours who had gone ahead of them.

    A crucial consideration was whether they would be able to earn a living in the new country, and if this meant going to country districts or provincial towns it was a price that had to be paid.

    It must be said, however, that in those days there was a determination to maintain Jewish identity and observance even if there were hardly any other Jews in the district. Loyalty to Shabbat and kashrut were generally axiomatic, despite all the difficulties.

    Parents tried hard to give their children a Hebrew education, even if this meant that a boy had to go away from home and live in the nearest large city in order to study for his Bar-Mitzvah.

    Eventually the going became too hard for many families and they moved back to the cities for the sake of a communal Jewish life. Sometimes this move proved a great success, but now, in some cases, families felt so relaxed about living with Jews that they forgot about living as Jews.

    There must be a lesson here. Is it that adversity is better for Jews? One hopes not. Is it that Jewish identity requires effort and commitment even when we are surrounded by other Jews? Undoubtedly.

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