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.
Yesterday the beginning of my PowerPoint presentation – one of two this week for me. Beginning at the start of my life as a way of showing the students that their life has meaning, too. How commitment is connected to a people. How identity evolves. How identity and the struggle within it matters. Even if the struggle fails or at least its outward manifestations doesn’t change what has to be changed.
I prefaced my presentation with a discussion of some key concepts like the prophetic. As you can imagine, we didn’t get too far after that. Today the prophetic has to be explained, beginning with the concept of the prophet. Where does the prophet come from? What does the prophet stand for?
The very notion of the prophet/prophetic is leaving the world’s consciousness. This doesn’t mean that the prophet/prophetic doesn’t exist – as was said to me many years ago; the Jewish prophetic voice will never die. But the conceptual framework and explanation is on the ropes. This may be an academic distinction, since we can have the prophetic without having the category in the forefront of our minds or speech. I suppose it is important to have categories and to let go of them. I cannot let go of the category prophet/prophetic – obviously.
Some quotations came back to me over the last days in relation to the cycle of violence and atrocity and the images that portray them. I shared them with my students. The first from James Joyce: “History is a Nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The second from Martin Buber: “History is a mysterious approach to closeness.”
For years I have thought within the parameters of these statements. How they move toward and away from each other. Within nightmare, closeness. History as the place we suffer within. History as the place we commit ourselves to. Penetrating to the depths of history, finding something beyond history.
There are limits. Closeness within the nightmare of Holocaust? Genocide? Guarding against a romanticized mysticism. Nonetheless, history as the arena. For closeness. If it’s possible.
Reading Etty Hiilesum many years ago, the diary of the German/Dutch Jew who lost her life in Auschwitz, finding God in the maelstrom. So difficult for me, against the grain of Holocaust consciousness – where was God at Auschwitz? Yet so intriguing, so deep, that I read only a few pages a night. To keep her story alive. Allowing it to unfold.
Another statement I shared yesterday. “Those who are uprooted are destined to uproot others.” Simone Weil, the French Jewish mystic who embraced Christianity. Sort of. Or drew so close she couldn’t (C)ross the threshold of the faith that excluded so many though out history. A whole other story. But yesterday her statement about uprooting applied to modern culture, the core of it, so uprooted that modernity cannot help but destroy everything – and everyone – in its wake. Feeding the machine of development, are my students destined to uproot others even in the desire to “help” the victims of everything, including modernity?
The Holocaust uprooting. Israel as continuing the cycle of uprooting. Once uprooted Jews were predestined to uproot Palestinians?
Of course, ideological Israel views the Jewish Diaspora as the ultimate uprooting. The wandering Jew, finally at home. Israel as the re-rooting of the uprooted Jew. Weakness coming from the uprooting, even the speculation that Jews uprooted others because we were uprooted. Zionism, then, taking on the views of the anti-Semites. At any rate, the Zionist recipe for curing the uprooted Jew, Israel. Ultimately, to become like the French in France and the English in England. You know the drill.
As the saying goes, how did that work out? Palestinians were uprooted. Are still being uprooted. Are Jews more rooted? If rooted, what are those roots, in Israel, in America? Are Jews rooted on the backs of the uprooting of others?
Was the Diaspora without roots? Jewish communities in some European soil for a thousand years or more. Outside of Europe as well. The Jewish roots being land? Or the prophetic, lived in various communal settings?
Though the prophetic was so often disciplined by the Rabbis of these communities, perhaps the Diaspora was a distortion of Jewish life and now the prophetic roams freely throughout the Jewish landscape. Food for thought: Where does the Jewish prophetic flourish and how? The prophetic, the indigenous of Jewish, uproots injustice wherever it is. How does it deal with the roots of others?
Prophetic Jew. Re-rooting Jews. In justice. As in the Palestinian return?
Returning all around, another uprooting. Rooting and uprooting is complicated once the Wheel of Uprooting is set in motion. The issue is where we stand in that process and what is to be done to restore or renew some kind of ordinary life. So that the rooting process can resume or begin again.
Revolutionary forgiveness. A way of negotiating mutual uprootedness. Not as return. Not as revision. Forgiveness with justice at its core. The question being, what is justice once the uprooting has taken on a life of its own.
As with modernity, intervention is needed. Without a “solution.” No retrospective re-rooting. 1948 Palestine is over. 2012 Israel is over, too. Or will be one day. Over, when the final uprooting of Palestinian and Jew is complete? Then what?
Uprooted Jew. JewTu. Coming to a Palestinian town near you.
It can’t go on like this forever, can it?