This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page. This piece is set in Innsbruck.
Let’s face it, synagogues and Hebrew Schools are places where Jewish (re)education is the word on the street. (Re)Educating Jews to accept a violence we used to rail against when perpetrated against us.
Not to forget the South African parents I used to meet in Europe traveling to meet their Jewish children who left Apartheid South Africa because they couldn’t take the injustice anymore. Or because it became unsafe to raise white Jewish children in an unraveling political space. Today, Jewish Israeli parents travel to visit their children who have left Israel. Because they just couldn’t take the injustice anymore. Or because it is increasingly unsafe.
Jewish youth camps. What are they being taught there? I doubt rah-rah Israel is the theme anymore. Does a knowing silence on Israel help Jewish kids navigate their internal world in relation to others?
The miracle of 1967. The spoils of 1948. Palestinians on the run. Jewish parents on the planes visiting children who can’t take it anymore or don’t feel safe in the country they were born.
The places of refuge that weren’t open to Jews fleeing the Holocaust are now open. No problem there. A new (un)expected Jewish Diaspora with Jewish Israelis in increasing numbers is forming.
Yesterday we finished Rubenstein’s The Cunning of History, a difficult book, the Holocaust as a paradigm for the future. Not just mass death but the bundle of modernity, bureaucracy, social organization and advanced technology, which guides us into an “iron cage” future. No way out. For Rubenstein, no “not only.”
Grumblings about the book – what in the world does this have to do with peace and development studies? Not stated directly, just some acting out. Perhaps it’s touched some in places they didn’t want to go. Tomorrow we’re on to my Practicing Exile, a primer for me at least. That pesky combination of exile and the prophetic in which there’s no way out either. In the community that practices exile the “not only” remains, as a catalyst or foundational openness, as we continue on the journey. More about this later.
Here’s a clue. It isn’t about transcending modernity. Rubenstein is right, there isn’t a way out of modernity. It’s about how we move within and through modernity. The light isn’t at the end of modernity, like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The light is within the journey through modernity among the debris and the hope that surrounds us.
Like Israel/Palestine. There isn’t a way that transcends the reality or takes a U-turn to the past. The only way forward is through Israel/Palestine. Creating a way within so that transformation can be glimpsed in the here and now.
This doesn’t sound highly political. May even be defined as apolitical. Let the definitional chips fall where they may. Suggestions welcome but please spare me the outdated slogans and the theories.
So much acting out when the going gets tough. In the big group yesterday I had to admonish two students, somewhat like grade school. The anxiety was about liberation theology which I was lecturing on. The slides I added with the themes of liberation theology were dark gray, not the best color, so during the break a few students worked on them. They ended up blue, with a snow flake pattern. When I saw the new format I smiled. The discussion had become heavy, with some of the resistance because of my God-talk. Lighten it up, Marc, they were saying. How to describe liberation theology without God?
Yes, liberation theology, from the 1960s and 1970s, Rubenstein from the 1970s – dated? Bookends of my life I suppose. No way out of my own history. Possibility of movement, though. Rubenstein: Those defined by modernity and the state as superfluous are destined for death. Liberation theology: Those defined by modernity and the state are defended as important in and of themselves and to God. Modernity-Talk/God-Talk. A tangle. Who wins there?
Defending the poor, Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job: God-talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. I showed slides of the conference I directed in the summer of 1988 honoring Gustavo and Liberation Theology at Maryknoll. It was a large gathering of everyone who was anyone in liberation theology circles. What a month, with publicity around the world. An attempted, though too late, Vatican intervention, was deflected by the Maryknoll hierarchy. A reminder that not all administrations are as corrupt as the one I just tangled with.
So much happened at the event honoring Gustavo. The memories are vivid. During the planning of the event, one day Gustavo came to my office with a smile on his face. His good news was that a publisher in Israel had agreed to translate his Job book into Hebrew. Through some contacts, I also managed to wrestle a congratulatory comment from Elie Wiesel. Though short, his comment was powerful. Wiesel referred to Job as a disturbing brother who accompanied suffering Jews in the Holocaust and those suffering in Latin America today. Gustavo himself made the link in his book. For Gustavo, the question was the Holocaust, then. Now the question is about those in Latin America and around the world thatare dying in the “corners of the dead.”
Among the speakers at the conference was Naim Ateek, whom I had met in Jerusalem the previous year and who handed me a dissertation he had written on a Palestinian Theology of Liberation. He asked me to read it, which I did. I brought it back to Maryknoll and since, through Orbis Books, Martyknoll was publishers of liberation theology, I told them they needed to publish Naim’s manuscript.
After Orbis decided to publish his book, we brought Naim to Maryknoll for six months or so to ready his manuscript for publication. I served as his editorial consultant. The discussions I had with Naim during his rewriting were amazing, enlightening and sometimes raw. He was learning more about himself as an “Arab-Israeli.” I was learning more about myself as a Jew in relation to Israel. Our dialogue was unchartered territory. Now his Palestinian theology of liberation and my Jewish theology of liberation, published a year earlier, are thought together. Without one, the other is impossible.
True, the birth of a Jewish and Palestinian liberation theology has done little to right the political situation in Israel/Palestine. Nonetheless, our work together represented a breakthrough that many others have witnessed in the years since. Our work contributed to other breakthroughs and, coupled with the movement of history, consciousness about the situation in Israel/Palestine has changed significantly.
Are these thoughts pie in the sky? Regardless, they are part of my response to Rubenstein. I had to keep moving though history.
This morning I am showing “Romero,” the movie. Such a beautiful, haunting film about the conservative Archbishop of El Salvador who, in the end, is martyred while saying Mass. Just months after, two Maryknoll Sisters and a lay missioner, who had been trained at Maryknoll, were brutally murdered there as well. I had just arrived to begin my teaching at Maryknoll’s headquarters in New York when the Sisters were killed. A difficult arrival.
I taught at Maryknoll for fifteen years and traveled all over the world with them. During that time, I visited Maryknoll’s mission sites in Latin America, Africa and Asia. While traveling, I experienced the burgeoning liberation theologies that emanated from the different countries and continents. It was a formative time for me. From this experience my Jewish theology of liberation was born.
I couldn’t witness the suffering and hope of the world without finding my voice on the Jewish home front. It took me some time for sure. Once I found my voice I never looked back.
Yes, much more about this part of the journey at another time. But what is crucial for me to remember – what might be helpful in this time of dead-end sensibilities in Israel/Palestine – and as a response to Richard Rubenstein – without denying the foundational truths of his analysis – is that personal change is constantly occurring and that personal change can be translated into larger frames.
During these years, I learned that Jews cannot be free until Palestinians are free. A huge lesson. What to do with that lesson has occupied since a Jewish theology of liberation was born.
Global transformation is hard to fathom. It is difficult to know what encounters – say with Gustavo Gutierrez and Naim Ateek – mean for Jews or for Latin Americans and Palestinians. I don’t know the answer to the larger question, but, on a personal level, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Yes and the words of Oscar Romero, as I recall them in Austria, the former home of the Nazis ascendant. Interviewed shortly before he was assassinated, Romero spoke about resurrection as a historical phenomenon: in death, he would rise in the history of the Salvadoran people.
Rising in the history of our own people. Global rising. Among the peoples. An (un)pious resurrection. Quite Jewish.
May it be so.