With all the furore, past and present, over the Jewish claim to sovereignty over the land of Israel, Ezra Hasofer (the scribe) is a role model and bearer of a message that is as relevant now as it was then.
Born some 23 centuries ago in ancient Babylon, Ezra, a master Torah scribe and scholar, was a high ranking officer in the royal court.
Inspired by the possibility of making the return to Zion a reality, he left his comfortable position behind and secured royal support to lead a relatively small group of devoted returnees on a long trek across the desert.
The majority of Jews, however, remained behind in Babylon in an exile that was to last until the appropriately named Operation Ezra and Nechemia, which was concluded by 1952, when the majority of Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel.
Upon arrival in the land of Israel, Ezra was shocked to find the spiritual standards of the existing Jewish community were at an all-time low. They had fallen under the influence of the powerful Samaritans and other local tribes and had intermarried freely with them.
A young generation was growing up that was unaware of the great spiritual heritage of Israel to the extent that they were no longer familiar with the Hebrew language.
Ezra was at the forefront of a highly successful national and spiritual revival, one that evoked animosity and violence from the neighbouring tribes.
This culminated in the destruction of the newly-built wall surrounding Jerusalem and the subsequent demise of the nascent Jewish community there. This sorry situation was to continue for another 12 years until Nechemia oversaw the rebuilding and revival of Jewish Jerusalem.
Ezra’s stature as a Torah scholar, his prowess as a visionary and leader, and his ability to bring the dream of a return to Zion into fruition, albeit a partial one, has meant that his legacy is felt until today, most noticeably by the youth movement that bears his name.
ω Rabbi Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust, @rjroodyn
by Rabbi jonny roodyn