Yesterday, as I'm sure you know, the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union. In light of all the talk about the future of Europe, I'd like to spend a few moments on the history of the Jews on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Jewish people over the past two millennia have been heavily tied in with European history. Even today, Jewish people are known as either Ashkenazi (old Hebrew for German) or Sephardi (Hebrew for Spanish). Jewish communities sprung up in Europe well before the Common Era, in places like Croatia, Spain, Rome, France and Germany. France became a major center of world Jewry by the year 1000; it is therefore understandable that with the conquest of England by William the conqueror - a Frenchman from Normandy - in 1096, Jewish communities moved into England as well.

Though England in recent times was one of the most tolerant countries for Jews, this was not the case early on. England had the first blood libel in Norwich in 1144, and was the first European country to formally expel its Jewish population in 1290. Jews were only permitted to return to England under Oliver Cromwell in 1656. Gradually, England became a safe haven for the Jewish people, electing a Jewish-born prime minister in 1874, shielding hundreds of thousands of Jews during the holocaust and helping reestablish the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

Those are just dry historic facts. However, I do like when even dry things like history can be made relevant and be seen in the broader context of a meaningful world, not just random happenstance. So let's give it a shot: Kabbalistic thought explains the Jewish sojourn in Europe as a kind of molding process, similar to our slavery in Egypt. The tremendous hardships the Jews went through in Europe are staggering. Yet we were able to come through 2,000 years of massacres, inquisitions, crusades, blood libels, expulsions and holocausts undeterred and stronger than ever. Involuntarily, it lifted our people, and our faith, to an infinitely stronger level. In addition, we were able to absorb the surrounding European cultures and languages, and infuse them with Jewish spirit and holiness. In short, the overarching 'benefit' of Jewish history in Europe was defying unthinkable challenges, and coming out stronger.

Yet this is not what Judaism is really about. Life is not only about coming out of challenges stronger - though that is an integral part of it. From the Torah's viewpoint, life is about living happily, in peace, prosperity and health. Period. No challenges needed. That is why, the Kabbalah teaches, the Jewish people's history moved from Europe to the New World - the United States and elsewhere. Post-European Jewish life in the New World, especially in the US, was, from the start, fundamentally different. There were no pogroms, massacres and expulsions (the one attempt at expulsion by General Grant was swiftly cut down by Abraham Lincoln). The anti-semitism that did exist was, for the most part, one of annoyance and discomfort, not murder and destruction.

Obviously, freedom, prosperity and peace are what we hope and pray for. That said, they do come with challenges of their own. Challenges that can be even harder than the challenges of the Old World. The modern challenge to Jewish life is how to live comfortably and happily, as a Jew. Easier said than done. With the challenges of old Europe behind us, it is now up to us to pass the real test. Can we live comfortably, even affluently, as proud upstanding Jews? Can we use the relative peace, prosperity, freedom and tranquility of modern times to become better people, and keep Jewish tradition alive, thriving and meaningful? It's up to each and every one of us to find out.

Rabbi Avrohom