Jerusalem: Roots and Wings

The earliest memories of every Jew are tied to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned repeatedly in our daily prayers and in the Grace after Meals. In our most supreme moment of happiness, at a wedding, we break a glass, because 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."

Arthur Cohn,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
[In Jerusalem, the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies of Bar-Ilan University awarded this year the prestigious Guardian of Zion Award to film producer Arthur Cohn. Previous recipients of this award include Dr. Elie Wiesel, Herman Wouk, Charles Krauthammer and Sir Martin Gilbert. Arthur Cohn, the only producer to have won six Academy Awards, is the only foreign producer ever honored with a star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame". His Academy Award winning films include The Garden of the Finzi-Contini and One Day in September (chronicling the 1972 Arab terrorist attack on Israeli athletes in Munich). Please find below some extracts of the distinguished Rennert Lecture, this year delivered by Arthur Cohn.]

The earliest memories of every Jew are tied to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned repeatedly in our daily prayers and in the Grace after Meals. In our most supreme moment of happiness, at a wedding, we break a glass, because 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 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 harm 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 Prof. Menachem Elon and Prof. 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 in the pre-State period.

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, because one who stops dreaming stops living. In Central Station, two people in far 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, they seek ways to transcend their situation and build a society based on brotherly love. According to a famous midrash, Jerusalem was chosen as the eternal capital of the Jewish people because of the love of two brothers for each other. This is the doctrine of Jerusalem: out of a belief in tikun olam ? to become a model of a just society.

The Jewish-Jerusalem element is prominent in a number of my other films, and I would like to share this with you. Beyond being artistic expressions, these films express something of the spirit of Jerusalem.

Our generation still lives under the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust that decimated our people. The Garden of the Finzi Continis portrays two Jewish families in Ferrara, Italy, who cannot escape their common Jewish destiny. In both families - even the assimilated one - their Jewishness finds expression in the night of the seder, which links them to the history of the Jewish people. During the seder night, we explain to the younger generation sitting with us around the table where we come from - so that we may understand where we are going. Knowledge and consciousness of the past are essential to providing a national anchor and directing us toward the ultimate aim of Jewish history in the future. There is a direct connection between awareness of the past -- "When Israel went out of Egypt" -- and the longing for the future -- "Next Year in Jerusalem."

As a sequel to The Garden of the Finzi Continis, the documentary Children of the Night portrays the murder of 1,300,000 Jewish children in the Holocaust. These are the very same children who stand at the center of the Jewish historical experience of the seder night, the same children that are the focal point of the exodus from Egypt. Moses said to Pharaoh: "We shall go with our young and our old," and the Torah charges us with the task of keeping alive this formative experience in the life of our people, through the mitzvah of "You shall tell it to your children." But "the children of the night" were doomed to a barbaric death in exile, instead of, in the words of the prophet Zechariah, filling the streets of Jerusalem in play.

A totally different type of film, Dangerous Moves, deals with a chess championship. The Soviet champion and his personal physician are both Jewish. While the film focuses on the Soviet efforts to promote their candidate, the Jewish issue is a secondary theme. Because he wants to emigrate to Israel, the doctor is forbidden to accompany his sick patient from Moscow to the international competition in Geneva, Switzerland. The chess champion dies with Shema Yisrael and words of loyalty to Jerusalem on his lips.

In recent generations, Jews have been able to give concrete expression to their loyalty to Jerusalem. Zionism deals with the renewal of the bond between the people of Israel and their land and language. But, as far back as close to a century ago, the Arab residents of the region initiated savage terror attacks against Jews wishing to settle in the Land of Israel. Contrary to often repeated claims, terror did not begin after the Six-Day War. Even the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), which later became the Palestinian Authority, was established three years earlier, in 1964, when there were no so-called "occupied" territories to liberate.

My film One Day in September, about the Israeli athletes who were murdered in Munich in 1972, deals with terror, a topic that began to attract world attention only in recent years, notably after September 11, 2001. In the "Olympic" atmosphere of love and understanding, terrorists dispatched by the Palestine Liberation Organization infiltrated the Israeli pavilion at the Olympic Games, killed two sportsmen and took hostage nine more, whom they later murdered. The victims, most of whom were immigrants from Eastern Europe who had long dreamed of realizing the words of Hatikva, "to be a free nation in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem," would never hear them sung in honor of an Israeli victory at the Olympics in Munich.

It was with great emotional difficulty that I decided prior to the release of the film to include at its end an authentic interview with the last surviving terrorist of the terror team in Munich, whom we located in a hiding place in Africa. His words, however, proved tragically correct. He stated: "I do not regret our attack at the Olympic Games. We succeeded brilliantly in bringing the political aims of the Palestinians to the awareness of untold millions all over the world." Terror, which sabotages our lives in every possible way, unfortunately is succeeding in winning the sympathy of public opinion in its war against Israel.

Zion and Jerusalem symbolize the history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. They also embody the yearning for the establishment of a renewed, enlightened society in Eretz Yisrael, in which Jerusalem ? once the heart of the Jewish people ? is once again the capital of Israel, to which representatives of all peoples will stream to hear the words of redemption.

The film One Day in September warns against the destruction of the Zionist dream as a result of physical terror. But it doesn't mention a terror that is possibly even worse: ideological terror.

Recent years have witnessed an alarming explosion of sophisticated Arab propaganda that has been delegitimizing the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. This attitude can be summarized by the phrase in a Palestinian schoolbook for the sixth grade, which says explicitly: "The argument that Jews have historic rights in Palestine is the greatest lie in human history."

According to a study by Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, conducted for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, even the history of Jerusalem has gradually been rewritten. The claim that Jews have no real connection to Jerusalem and its holy sites has been adopted by the Palestinian leadership and has become entrenched in Arab and Muslim communities. At the heart of this new version is the argument that Arabs ruled Jerusalem thousands of years before the Children of Israel. The most amazing element of the new history is the claim that the First and Second Temples are lies, fabricated by the Jews. This view was even adopted by the website of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington which declared that there has never been any archaeological evidence of Jewish life in the Jerusalem of ancient times. No wonder, then, that the Palestinians seize every opportunity to destroy in the most uncivilized way all the precious archaeological findings beneath the surface of the Temple Mount. What an irony: No other people except the Jews has ever made Jerusalem its capital, despite its conquest by many imperial powers, but now clear facts are denied and history is rewritten.

While history is being rewritten, old myths and libels against Israel and the Jews are being revived ? and new ones created. Examples of modern "blood libels" are the poisoning of Arab women and children, the use of the blood of Arab children to bake matzot, the dissemination of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the denial of the Holocaust.

By denying the historic/religious bond between the Jewish people and its land, the Arabs portray the Jewish settlement enterprise in the entire State of Israel as theft of their lands. This includes even those lands on which Jews have lived for generations, and those acquired at great cost and sacrifice. Just as the blood libels encouraged the murder of Jews, the contemporary libel that speaks about the theft of the Holy Land by the Zionists and Israel legitimizes acts of terror against the Jews.

The most problematic word, "occupation", with all its negative connotations is added to the accusation of "theft" when referring to the lands that came into Israeli hands as a result of the Six-Day War, including even the old City of Jerusalem. Although the so-called "occupied territories" were not taken from legal owners, but from Egypt and Jordan ? whose claims to the West Bank were never recognized internationally (and who themselves later relinquished their claims to these areas); despite the fact that they were taken in a defensive war; and even though these territories were given in a League of Nations decision (1922) to the Jewish people for habitation and residence. Notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinians, who are demanding these lands, only in recent years discovered their existence as a national entity, they are trying, by the use of the term "occupation", to further delegitimize our right to the Land of Israel. However, the accusation of "theft" in the Arab textbooks and communications media - or, as the Palestinians call it, "The Rape of Palestine" - is applied to the entire State of Israel, with no distinction made between Shechem and Tel Aviv, between Jericho and Haifa.

The influence of this historic revisionism, together with the vilification of Israel and Jews, on Arab youth ? particularly Palestinian youth ? must be of major concern to us. The media, the textbooks, and the sermons in the mosques are fraught with perverse libels and lies that distort both the historic past and the present. They prevent any possibility of coexistence and peace in the foreseeable future and poison the minds of future generations.

Whoever wants to defend Zion and whoever holds Jerusalem dear must take an active role in the struggle against this ideological terror. He must utterly repudiate the false and libelous accusations, and tell the true facts about both historical and contemporary events. Movies can play a tremendous role -- a recent pseudo-historical film has demonstrated just how strong their negative influence can be ? but each person, in his or her own way and according to the means at his disposal, must expose these horrendous lies and slanders against the Jewish people.

This evening is sponsored by Bar-Ilan University. Bar-Ilan contributes greatly to disclosing the historic truth, not only in its ongoing academic activity, but also through its special institutes like the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, which organizes conferences and puts out publications in honor of Jerusalem in its true historical and spiritual dimensions. Of course, Bar-Ilan also deals with teaching young adults; it understands the tremendous importance of giving students, in addition to professional training, a solid Jewish-Zionist foundation as part of their basic studies. The university must expand such activity, for the benefit of the general public, in coordination with other academic bodies.

It is crucial that all those who are faithful to Jerusalem join in the struggle against the anti-Semitic slander that denies the Jewish people's rights to its land and to its spiritual heart. Although Israeli society and the Jewish world are divided on many issues, there is a broad consensus on basic matters that must be stressed in every forum and discussion. Bar-Ilan, in particular, as an academic and apolitical institution whose teachers represent a wide range of views on existential matters, is an appropriate place to emphasize that which unites us, rather than that which divides us. It is the duty of every responsible Jew to stress always at the beginning of his/her articles, lectures and talks the basic Jewish and Zionist beliefs that we all share.

The deep and abiding connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem is both an historic and an existential fact. Jerusalem is a city that unites all of us, the city that must join together the various factions of the Jewish people and unite them in defending it. Avital Sharansky, in her admirable speech at the mass rally for Jerusalem organized by her husband and the Mayor of Jerusalem, declared forcefully: "Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people. The heart is not only the seat of our feelings and emotions, but also pumps vital life-giving blood to the entire organism." Just as dreams of Jerusalem sustained the Jewish people throughout the generations in their darkest moments, today, too, Jerusalem nourishes the Jewish people wherever they may be.

If we have no historic-national rights over Jerusalem, then "for thousands of generations, we have dreamt of you" in vain. If Jerusalem does not belong to us, our entire connection with this land is in question.

Every person needs both roots and wings. Only he who is nourished by the firm ground of his past can give creative expression to his personal dreams. Nations, too, can only soar to new horizons if they are established on sound foundations. The roots that have bound us to this land for thousands of years are strong and deep. They allow us to survive the strongest tempests and to persist in our unique way of life. Thanks to these roots, the Jewish people was able, even after the horrors of the Holocaust, to renew itself and flourish in all paths of life. The winds of time cannot undermine us so long as stability of the foundations of our existence, our Jewish and Zionist roots, remain firm. Therefore, we must protect, with vigor and devotion, the deep roots of our tradition in Zion and Jerusalem.

We all must be defenders of Jerusalem. We all are Guardians of Zion.


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