By Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
“Jewish ideas have changed the world without the world knowing it. Now it will.” This expression has become the watchword of Hamakom: The World’s Jewish Museum. But what exactly do these words mean? Have Jewish ideas – the ideas of a people constituting about one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population — really altered the world’s destiny? Remarkably, they have. In dozens of ways. For example, a verse in the opening chapter of Genesis, the Torah’s first book, in telling of the creation of humankind, declares: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Some 3,000 years after this verse was made known to the ancient Israelites, and through the Israelites to the world, the most famous line in the American Declaration of Independence was written: “All men are created equal.” Where indeed did this electrifying idea come from? From Greek philosophers? From Roman scholars? Certainly not. The notion that all human beings are inherently equal would have struck Hellenic and Roman thinkers as ridiculous. It was a simply worded biblical verse asserting that there is a spark of divinity in every human being that introduced this idea into the world – an idea that eventually culminated in the declaration “All men are created equal.”
This, of course, is but one example of the power of just this one verse. During the middle of World War II, a war fought to stop Hitler, the Nazis, and their notion of Aryan supremacy from taking over the world, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared: “The whole reason we are fighting this war can be summed up in one in the Bible,’ And God created man in His image’.”
These few words written in the Torah over 3,000 years ago, have reverberated ever since. And the remarkable thing is that they have the power to continue to reverberate and protect humankind for the next 3000 years.
This is the goal of Hamakom, to share with Jews and non-Jews alike, those uniquely Jewish ideas, inventions and innovations that have elevated the whole world. And by doing so to fulfill another biblical verse, the one that defines God’s mandate to Abraham and to all his future descendants: “And you shall be a blessing [to all humankind] (Genesis 12:2)”.