Monday, June 04, 2007

Once were priests

My histories are complex. I have an English history, of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Armada, of Shakespeare and the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, all very imperial, pomp and circumstance. I have an American history, fighting for freedom against English tyranny, the Minutemen, the Indians and the Blacks and the Civil War and the Presidents and Civil rights. I have a Jewish history, the Bible from Noah to David, Joseph and Moses and the Exodus and the Rabbis and the persecutions and the Holocaust. I have an Israeli history, from the first aliyah and Trumpledor and Weizmann and Ben Gurion and Jabotinski to the Six Day War and the victories and the terrorism. And I have a scientific history, of Newton and Priestley and the discovery of the elements, of Mendeleev and the Periodic Table, of Darwin and evolution, of Bohr and the atom and Einstein and Watson & Crick and DNA. It's no wonder that I'm complex, with all these histories all mixed up inside me.
In order to find a single thread that links me back through this mess of facts, indoctrination and propaganda I cling to the identity of my name, Cohen, meaning Priest in Hebrew. If anyone says that the Jewish people don't have a right here, tell them that I am a direct descendent of the priests in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. I am their descendent as proven by genetic analysis (of other Cohanim) and I am in our land, and that is my main claim to identity, through all the centuries of British empire, of American frontier, of Jewish persecution and of scientific discovery.
There was a memorable movie from New Zealand of all places some years ago entitled "Once were Kings," showing the current state of degradation of the Maoris, contrasted to their former glory as Kings of their own realm. Nothing can bring it back. I assume that similarly the Islamists hark back to the time of Mohammed, when their culture and ideology was a winning formula against the rest of the world and they carved out an Empire from India to Spain (the rest of the Muslim conquests and losses came later). But, even though some Jews have transformed themselves into Israelis and settled The Land, they have not tried to recreate the former glory of the Bible or the Temple, but have modernized and gone on to revolutionize cell phone technology, cancer treatment and nanotechnology. Maybe this is the way we retain our nobility, to recover from the killing fields, the miasma of Europe, and celebrate life by looking to the future, secure in our homeland.


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