During all these periods of exile, Zion, the traditional name for Jerusalem, was never totally forgotten. This city, whatever name was used for it – whether Holy City, Jerusalem or City of David – was always at the focal point of Jewish prayer. Actually, Jerusalem is of importance for three great religions; it is the city built in the Jewish King David’s reign, the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, and the site of Mohammed’s legendary ascension into Heaven.
The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol. It is supposed to represent the shape of King David’s shield (or perhaps the emblem on it), but there is really no support for that claim in any early rabbinic literature. For example, some note that the top triangle strives upward, toward G-d, while the lower triangle strives downward, toward the real world. Some note that the intertwining makes the triangles inseparable, like the Jewish people. Some say that the three sides represent the three types of Jews: Kohanim, Levites and Israel. While these theories are theologically interesting, they have little basis in historical fact. The symbol is a common one in the Middle East and North Africa, and is thought to bring good luck. It appears occasionally in early Jewish artwork, but never as an exclusively Jewish symbol. The nearest thing to an “official” Jewish symbol at the time was the menorah. In the middle ages, Jews often were required to wear badges to identify themselves as Jews, much as they were in Nazi Germany, but these Jewish badges were not always the familiar Magen David. In the 17th century, it became a popular practice to put Magen Davids on the outside of synagogues, to identify them as Jewish houses of worship in much the same way that a cross identified a Christian house of worship. The Magen David gained popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897, but the symbol continued to be controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag. Today, the Magen David is a universally recognized symbol of Jewry. It appears on the flag of the state of Israel.(Jewish Virtual Library)
Kazimierz, tells a concise, typical Jewish history.
Kazimierz is a historical district of Kraków, Poland; best known for being home to a significant Jewish community from the 14th century on until the Holocaust in the Second World War.
Jews had played an important role in the Kraków regional economy since the end of 13th century, granted the freedom of worship, trade and travel in 1264. King Casimir III of Poland declared the two western suburbs of Kraków to be a new town named after him, Kazimierz in 1335. The Jewish community in Kraków had lived undisturbed alongside their Christian neighbours under the protective King Kazimierz III. In early 15th century some dogmatic clergy began to push for less official tolerance. Accusations of blood libel by a fanatic priest in Kraków led to riots against the Jews in 1407 even though the royal guard hastened to the rescue. Some Jews moved to the area, the oldest synagogue building standing in Poland was built in Kazimierz at around that time, either in 1407 or 1492, an Orthodox fortress synagogue called the Old Synagogue. In 1494 a disastrous fire destroyed a large part of Kraków. In 1495 the Polish king Jan I Olbracht transferred Krakow Jews to Kazimierz, which gave rise to its once bustling Jewish quarter and a major European center of the Diaspora for the next three centuries. With time it turned into virtually separate and self-governed Jewish Town, which became the main spiritual and cultural centre of Polish Jewry, represented only about one fifth of the geographical area of Kazimierz, but nearly half of its inhabitants. As refugees from all over Europe kept coming to find the safe haven here, its population reached 4,500 by 1630. The golden age of the Jewish Town came to an end in 1782, when the Austrian Emperor Joseph II disbanded the executive board that was chosen to run the autonomous Jewish community. In 1791, Kazimierz lost its status as a separate city and became a district of Kraków. The richer Jewish families quickly moved out of the overcrowded streets of eastern Kazimierz. Because of the injunction against travel on the Sabbath, however, most Jewish families stayed relatively close to the historic synagogues in the Old Town, maintaining Kazimierz’s reputation as a “Jewish district” long after the concept ceased to have any administrative meaning. In 1822, the walls were torn down, removing any physical reminder of the old borders between Jewish and Christian Kazimierz. By the 1930s, Kraków had 120 officially registered synagogues and prayer houses scattered across the city and much of Jewish intellectual life had moved to new centres like Podgórze. In March 1941 the German war administration forced all Krakow Jews to resettle in the newly created ghetto north of the Kazimierz area. The Nazis liquidated it only two years later on March 13, 1943. Most of the 17,000 ghetto inhabitants perished in the Nazi concentration camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow’s Plaszow.