Roots and Wings: Jerusalem and Zionism

By Cohn, Arthur | Midstream, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Roots and Wings: Jerusalem and Zionism

Cohn, Arthur, Midstream

EDITOR'S NOTE: Arthur Cohn received the "Guardian of Zion Award" presented by the Bar Ilan University Faculty of Jewish Studies and the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies on May 27, 2004 at a dinner ceremony at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It was then that Mr. Cohn delivered the Annual Distinguished Rennert Lecture, which is published here with some revisions with the author's permission.

The earliest memories of every Jew are tied to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned repeatedly in our dally prayers and in the "Grace after Meals." In our most supreme moment of happiness, at a wedding, we break a glass, became no joy can be complete while the Temple remains unbuilt and the bridegroom vows festively "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning." Each year, three entire weeks--culminating in the fast of Tisha B'Av--are devoted to mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned no fewer than 667 times in the Bible--and not even once in the Koran. Both Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder, which are celebrated almost universally, even by assimilated Jews, close with the fervent hope: "Next Year in Jerusalem." This "Jerusalem-orientation" of the Jewish people even finds expression in the fact that no matter where they are, Jews face Jerusalem to pray. In contrast, when Egypt's President Sadat visited the Temple Mount, he turned his face in prayer to Mecca--and his back to Jerusalem. The roots of every Jew are embedded in this city. The Israeli writer Shai Agnon, a native of Buchach, in Galicia, was indeed correct when he announced, upon receiving the Nobel Prize, that he was born ... in Jerusalem!

To the collective affinity of the Jewish people with Jerusalem I would like to add my personal connection. As a child growing up in Basel, I witnessed many Zionist Congresses, planning the return to Zion and Jerusalem. It was due to the Chief Rabbi of Basel, my grandfather Arthur (Asher Michael) Cohn, that the first Zionist Congresses could take place in Basel, as other respected rabbis in Germany and Austria had refused to support the Zionistic vision. My grandfather, who also personally addressed the First Zionist Congress, was very pleased that Theodor Herzl declared that the return to Judaism preceded the return to a Jewish land and that the Zionist movement would do nothing that could hurt any religious belief in Judaism.

My father, of blessed memory, Dr. Marcus Cohn, was a devoted Zionist and a world renowned specialist in Jewish law. For him the phrase "Zion will be redeemed with justice" was a guiding principle. He immigrated to Israel after the establishment of the state, and served in the Ministry of Justice as Advisor on Matters of Jewish Law, a position later filled by Professor Menachem Elon and Professor Nachum Rackover. He was also closely attached to the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and worked together with him in Degel Yerushalayim, an organization that was active at that time.

I never created a professional work about Jerusalem. I didn't write about Jerusalem in the days I worked as a journalist; nor did I, as a producer, make any films about the city. Nevertheless, Jerusalem is an integral part of all of my creations. Such is the power of Jerusalem that it gives every Jew an energizing flow of Jewish spirituality that inspires all his creative works, consciously and subconsciously.

Jerusalem, it seems to me, symbolizes three basic elements in our collective consciousness: (1) identification with the Jewish tradition; (2) yearning for the Land of Israel, and; (3) a desire for a divinely inspired, just society.

I have worked on many films dealing with social problems and ways of solving them. The theme of Two Bits, starring Al Pacino, is the importance of keeping our dreams alive became one who stops dreaming stops living. In Central Station, two people in fat-away Brazil are in search of their identity despite their biting poverty: In both movies, Central Station and Two Bits, children do not despair but, rather, seek ways to transcend their situation and build a society based on brotherly love. …

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