This summer I was in England for the first time. I
spent five days in London at the 43rd annual conference of the
International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).The
conference was excellent, but the highlight of the trip for me was running
around London for a few days before and after the conference to see the great
sites. My sightseeing brought to mind memories and issues of identity and
remember standing on the front lawn of Cedar Grove Public School in February
1965 to watch the lowering of the Red Ensign and the raising of the flag of
Canada. Every morning we sang O’ Canada and God Save the Queen and waved
Canadian flags at assemblies. In junior high school we studied Shakespeare and
British history revolving around the kings and queens of England. All
of which was designed to emphasize that Britain was our ancestral
As Jews, we had another narrative. We went to Hebrew school or day school, where we sang Hatikvah, waved Israeli flags, and sang Zionist songs until we knew them by heart. Synagogues, camps, and Jewish youth organizations emphasized that Israel was our ancestral homeland. The urge to spend time there and study there was for myself as for others leaving Canada for the first time. For many it led to making aliyah.
I could argue that my ancestral homeland is Poland, where all my grandparents were born and lived, having never been to Britain or Israel. But for historical reasons that are all too familiar, they hated Poland, they left, and they never spoke of it again once they arrived in this country. My interest in Polish history only goes so far as grasping the Polish Jewish culture in that land which no longer exists.
The expression “Long live the King!” comes from the end of the haftarah for Hayyei Sarah. “Bathsheba bowed low in homage to the king with her face to the ground, and she said, “May my lord King David live forever!” In this week’s Torah reading is the Law of the King. A special mitzvah of the Torah could only be observed by him. “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him on a scroll by the Levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Torah as well as these laws. Thus, he will not act haughtily toward his follows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.” Read it in the Torah is a technical term for reciting. The king was to be a pious leader who studied Torah so that he could teach it to his subjects. The law of the king in Deuteronomy is a polemic against the absolute authority that the king held in the ancient Near Eastern and in many historical monarchies of the past. He was not above the law nor was he the law.