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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.
Jewish history dates back 4,000 years to the time of Abraham, the biblical figure credited for introducing the belief in a single God.
Abraham's monotheism not only marked the beginning of Judaism, but of Christianity and Islam as well.
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.
European Jews are divided mainly between the Jews of Spain and Portugal, the Sephardim, and the Jews from German-speaking countries in central and eastern Europe, the Ashkenazim.
Between the ninth and fifteenth centuries Sephardic Jews made significant cultural and literary contributions to Spain while it was under Islamic rule.
With a population of approximately 4.2 million Jews, Israel is home to about one-third of the world Jewry, estimated at 12.9 million at the end of 1992. Some feel the United States, with 5.8 million Jews, is the de facto home of Jews, evidenced in part by the fact that Israel is sometimes called "Little America" because of its similarities to the United States.
Accounting for more than three-fourths of the world Jewry, Israel and the United States represent the two major Jewish population regions.
Although Jews comprise less than three percent of the American population, Jews have generally had a disproportionately larger representation in American government, business, academia, and entertainment.
American Jews have suffered their share of setbacks and have had to combat anti-Semitism during the early twentieth century.