Leap of Faith: icons

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Leap of Faith: icons

Is our fascination with celebrities a kind of magic?

To mark 26 years since the sudden death of Princess Diana, Queen of People’s Hearts, Gottex has reissued a swimsuit she once wore – perhaps a fitting way to remember someone whose every look was photographed, celebrated and in many cases emulated. Meanwhile, a different kind of Queen, Freddie Mercury, is being remembered at Sotheby’s with an exhibition of the contents of his home to which crowds are flocking, despite the icon having died over 30 years ago. The trappings of their lives seem to have become a core fascination for how we remember them.

In Israel, there are constant discoveries and preservations of the lives of our ancestors, and even attempts to recreate them. The Temple may have been gone for nearly 2,000 years, but it remains a place of fascination, adoration, recreation and pilgrimage. Although as a people we balk against idolatry (and the worship of celebrities and material things today may well stray into this from time to time!) we also use physical objects and places to remember and connect to our history and our ancestors, and the meaning their lives may hold for us.

A number of years ago my husband and I had been told we probably wouldn’t have children, and as we happened to be visiting Israel shortly after, we decided to visit the tomb of Rachel, our matriarch who suffered from infertility while her sister Leah mothered half the tribes. This site has been a place of pilgrimage for those struggling to conceive for centuries.

Today everyone knows where the tomb is, but historically there were other contenders for her burial. You could argue it was a collective decision to designate that place as the one where Rachel lies (and any perceived power her grave may hold). Whether or not she is there becomes irrelevant over time; it is the prayers and hopes of generations of people that embed meaning into the place.

The significance that recent icons like Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury hold for individuals may already outstrip the reality of what any one person’s life can truly hold. I suspect, however, they won’t hold quite the power and longevity that faith and peoplehood have imbued our ancient ancestors and their stories with. Stories that have come down to us in pieces, retold by generations who were helped by them and held in awe by them, meaning any physical remembrance we can grasp on to begins to tell its own story.

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