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Although Jews originally came from the Middle East, many races and peoples have mixed together in Jewish communities over the centuries, especially after the Jews were forced out of Palestine in the second century What binds the group together is a common Jewish heritage as passed down from generation to generation.
For many Jews, the binding force is Judaism, a term usually referring to the Jewish religion but sometimes used to refer to all Jews.
Following God's instructions, Abraham led his family out of Mesopotamia to Canaan, later renamed Palestine, then Israel. ("Hebrew" is derived from "Eber," which means "from the other side." This is a reference to the fact that Abraham came from the "other side" of the Euphrates River.) According to the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham promising that if the Hebrews followed God's commandments, they would become a great nation in the land of Canaan.
Subsequently, Hebrews referred to themselves as "God's chosen people." After Abraham, the Hebrews were led by Abraham's son Isaac, then by Isaac's son Jacob.
American Jews have suffered their share of setbacks and have had to combat anti-Semitism during the early twentieth century.
On the whole, however, Jews have enjoyed greater acceptance in America than in any other country and have figured prominently in American culture and politics.
Accounting for more than three-fourths of the world Jewry, Israel and the United States represent the two major Jewish population regions.
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Jacob, also known as "Israel" ("Champion of God"), was the father of 12 sons, who became leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel.
For hundreds of years these tribes lived in Canaan and comprised all of Hebrew civilization.
The distinction between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim—Hebrew terms for Spanish and German Jews—continues to be the major classification of Jews, with 75 percent of today's world Jewry being Ashkenazic.
In medieval Europe, Sephardic Jews enjoyed the most freedom and cultural acceptance.