There’s an old classic of a rather pretentious lady sitting next to a Jewish woman at a civic event. The blue hair turns to her Yiddisha neighbor and with a haughty, affected Brahmin accent shares that her ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Without missing a beat, Sadie Finkelstein calmly replies, ‘That’s nice. My family was on the ark with Noah’. So much for competitive yichus.
There is a passion within, perhaps even a need, to have a sense of where we come from. A connection to a past that we proudly claim. It is not enough to be a citizen of today alone but bonded to a distant pedigree. Ancestry has become a critical part of our identity and oddly, gives us a sense of worth, linkage and permanence. We are nervous about mortality but fear oblivion even more. Bury me but not too deeply and in the family plot.
There is comfort in lineage which brings me to one of our Netflix binge favorites. The Crown. A marvelous history of Queen Elizabeth that reveals the delicious court intrigue in Buckingham Palace. There’s lots to relish in the luscious production but mostly I enjoy the obsession with genealogy. For the Royals in the twenty first century to not only know who their mishpacha was in the tenth century, but, to know what they looked like from palace paintings must be thrilling. No need for swabs and Ancestry.com. So, we can be a bit jealous of that remarkable dynasty, their castles and limos, but let us never forget that we too are royalty. We go back over three millennia and though we do not know our ancestors’ visage, we do know that we are descended from the tribe of Judah, from the tribe of Levi and that our ancestors were at Sinai. The famed historian, Arnold Toynbee, no lover of Jews, was once asked what he thought was the greatest miracle of history. His answer, from an anti-Semite…’The survival of the Jews’.
The Sun Never Set on the British Empire but neither has it set on the descendants of Judah and Levi. Jerusalem is a whole lot older than London.