An American Jew in India. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The day Jews confess sins. The day God judges sins. The day God decides our fate.
Tradition tells us that on Yom Kippur, God writes our name in the Book of Life. Or not. No one knows in advance. Shall we be alive tomorrow?
Not to worry. We don’t really confess our sins. Not the real ones anyway. And we still seem to live. Is God fooling us? Biding his time?
Today, I sit in my hotel room in silence rather than in my synagogue at home or in New Delhi. I can’t go near the ritual of confession without confessing. Can’t do it. Can you?
Why India? I’m not here to cash in on India’s new global prominence. Nor will I see the suffering entailed in that “development.”
My time here is advertised as a lecture tour. If you want to know the truth, I’m in India confessing.
Development is necessary. The suffering it causes is catalogued by historians. After.
But, then, as an American, what have I to say to India about the costs of development? America rides the crest of development’s wave. For now.
Every Yom Kippur, I confess the sins of my people. Wherever I am. Wherever I can.
I have spoken and written this confession for 25 years – without any success.
Here is my confession:
What we, as Jews, have done to the Palestinian people is wrong.
What we, as Jews, are doing to the Palestinian people is wrong.
Past. Present. No equivocation. No end in sight.
Some Jews view my confession as out of place. How dare I confess the suffering of the Palestinian people at our hands? But there are many Jews who hold the same point of view. Most won’t be in synagogue on Yom Kippur either.
You see, as with any people or nation, there are Jews who think empire will save us. And, as with any people or nation, there are Jews who think we are bound to others for the greater good.
Empire Jews seek power over others. Jews of Conscience seek life with others.
Empire Jews versus Jews of Conscience. A Jewish civil war.
This civil war is hardly confined to Jews. Is there a civil war in India between those who want empire and those who exercise conscience?
Some say that Kashmir is another Palestine. I lack the knowledge to make a comparison.
South Africans I know say what is happening in Palestine is worse than the apartheid they suffered. They should know.
President Jimmy Carter believes that the Jewish colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank is apartheid. When I visited him at his library in Atlanta, he spoke about Palestinian suffering. During his remarks, he wept.
So much suffering in the world. So much violence in the world. So many forms of violence.
I read about the next generation of American Drone aircraft. “Development” continues. Our brave new world. If India doesn’t have this latest military “advance,” you will. If India wants empire.
So much to confess historically. Today. For the future.
But on Yom Kippur, as a Jew, I think of the Palestinian people.
I write of Palestinian sufferings and their desire to be free. I write of Jews oppressing the Palestinian people.
Yes, we Jews. In Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza I see it with my own eyes. More and more Jews of Conscience see it. We are powerless. Will America help? Will India?
Without justice, Jewish history loses its foundation. Without conscience, there is only empire. Without a religious “no” to empire, why religion?
On Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world, take a deep breath. Confess.
Now exhale. Reach our hands out toward our neighbors, the Palestinians.
Don’t Palestinians have a right to be free in their own homeland?
If Palestinians are free, perhaps we could become free. Of our own oppression.
Yes, today, on Yom Kippur, let us confess our oppression. Of another people.
God, if on this Yom Kippur you find me worthy of being written into the Book of Life, I ask you to place my name on the same page as the Palestinian people.
Right there. With other Jews and Palestinians who want a future of justice and equality.
Book of Life. Same page.
Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University. He is the author of many books, most recently Encountering the Jewish Future: with Wiesel, Buber, Heschel, Arendt, Levinas.