Exile and the Prophetic: Researching the Jewish future in the Israel State Archives

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.

What does the prophetic say to the next four years of more of the same? Practicing exile.

What does exile mean in the next four years of more of the same? Practicing the prophetic.

What to do in exile with the prophetic in the next four years of more of the same? Continue on in our practice of exile and the prophetic.

Continuing on is the fidelity we need, the only fidelity worth its grain of salt and the only witness that makes sense in the next four years of more of the same. By continuing on the next four years of more of the same might be different. Well, it will be different if we are. As with most of life, it’s a matter of degree. We don’t know where the tipping point is or when it will arrive.

I return to the need for strategic depth. If everything has two sides the outcome is constantly in doubt. Viewed in historical long haul time, celebrations are momentary. So are defeats.

It’s easy to sit on the proverbial fence and pretend that you’re not involved. Especially if the tidal waves overturn everyone else’s life boat while leaving yours intact (for the time being).

I am reminded of Noah’s Ark, though this time the wealthy of the earth gather two by two to outlast the “horde” surge. When you’re one of the saved, even if you’re on an auxiliary boat, there’s a lot of pressure to be silent. Most are silent, of course.

Shoving others overboard when need be is part of this enabling silence. We all have a “save yourself” DNA sequence deep within us.

Though occasionally it happens that just when someone is trying to hang on for dear life, they stop. They refuse to shove someone else overboard. You know what’s next. Off you go, you’re the one thrown into the sea. You watch the lifeboats fade into the distance.

How breathtaking it is when a person takes a stand. It’s as simple as that, the prophetic is right there in front of your eyes. In the actions of another we witness hope embodied. In our own actions we witness hope made real.

During our Days of Awe, we should remember the thirtieth anniversary of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. It turns out that there are new developments in the case. These new details bring the massacre closer to our American shores with an interesting twist.

Dealing with newly declassified documents on the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Seth Anziska, points an interesting finger at the American government. The documents contain verbatim discussions, arguments and accusations between American and Israeli officials. It turns out US officials knew what was going on in the camps and confronted the Israeli government in angry tones. Led by Ariel Sharon, Israel refused to back down. The massacres continued.

Where were these documents found? In the Israel State Archives. Where was the story published? In the New York Times.

History is playing its subversive role. There’s no confession like history. The Israel State Archives makes the American and Israeli Yom Kippur look like a child’s prelude to the adult story.

Has Jewish religious life in all its guises become a child prelude to the real thing? Sharing knowledge is age appropriate, of course. Jews have regressed to the stage where the real history of our empowerment is hidden away in the Israel State Archives.

It seems that the central role of the Jewish establishment over the next hundred years will be damage control. Progressive Jews have also played that role. The challenge for Jews of Conscience is to refuse damage control. The fear on all sides is that if the truth becomes known there may be little left of Jewish.

That fear must be faced head on. When everything that surrounds Jewish is stripped away we arrive where we began – with the prophetic – the Jewish indigenous.

What has already been found is one thing. What will be found in the future is another. Like the Crusaders’ accounts preserved for history and now read with horror, our collective hair will stand on edge when the full story is told.

Which it will be. On a Yom Kippur in the future our collective history toward Palestinians will be confessed. Perhaps, even on this Yom Kippur, it will be told, somewhere.

Part of the story was discovered in Israel. Part of the story was published in New York.

History eventually goes global. Jewish history is not exempt.

Interesting, who would have thought that the Israel State Archives would be the place where the history of the Jewish state was turned upside down?

Researching the Jewish future in the Israel State Archives. At first it seems strange. Then it doesn’t.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in American Jewish Community

{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Sin Nombre says:

    I forgot who it was I read some time ago—some European jewish intellectual who reminded me a bit of Abba Eban for some reason (the beautiful clarity of his writing maybe, or just the subtle manner of thinking)—but he was talking/worrying about the sort of subterranean lesson he thought continental Europe at least was taking from what was going on in the U.S. and the Middle East and to a lesser effect with Great Britain similarly. I.e., to the effect of persuading that yes, that’s exactly what you get when you reach a certain concentration of jews in your government. (Some of which they supposedly already see in their own.) First, that is, jews practicing a constant quiet but unmistakeable self-help so that gradually in whatever niche or bureaucracy they’re in—typically “key” ones of the greatest importance—eventually one looks and see their numbers astonishing if not often dominating. Simply unaccountable other than via some mischief. And then there’s the ineluctable turn whenever and however possible to helping international jewish causes, especially Israel. To the point where even though the official position of the country may be absolutely and directly contrary to this or that Israeli interest or position, and the public position of the citizenry is even *wildly* hostile to that Israeli interest or position (such as is often the case in Great Britain, it was said), no, for some reason that’s invariably obscure nothing *ever* really happens as a result of same. The Israelis do something—Cast Lead for instance—and there’s the issuance of all kinds of outrage and everyone waits for the consequence and … somehow nothing ever happens. Somewhere in the bureaucracy someone—some many ones it seems almost certain—have just … smothered it up somehow. And somehow the actual *doing* of anything idea never makes it to the top or, if it does, is invariably argued down from all kinds of directions and sources with what seems boundless sudden energy and coordination. Thus there’s some initial explosion/outrage, and at best if anyone’s still asking a little “tsk tsk” a few weeks later in the vein of “yes that old bit of news was too bad then, wasn’t it?,” whereupon it just disappears.

    “Like a magic trick” the comparison comes to mind with some of the illustrations this guy alluded to, but then you feel guilty for not facing up to noting that no, it’s more like the old meme of jews as engaged in some great conspiracy. But, regardless, this is indeed the alleged “lesson” that this guy says is being taken, and that don’t auger well for the jewish future in Europe at least.

    And I would say that while it seems almost incomprehensible here now, we ought to now be accustomed to seeing the incomprehensible becoming the real after the last mere decade (a President proposing to kill Americans without trial?), and American public opinion could turn against jews here too.

    Certainly you read the comment section now below almost any news story touching on the issue, damn near in any publication, and my God the resentment out there. And now you got the Netanyahu ad for Romney: Well what the hell is that *other* than an acceptance into the give-and-take ring of our politics now? “You wanna play?,” I think lots of people feel, “then you’re fair game too goddamn it, no matter how much you want to say you’re for Romney because he’s good for ‘America’ instead of Israel.”

    Of course if one could perceive the Middle East/Israel issue settling down in even the middling future none of this might matter. But I at least don’t see it. What’s Israel doing now but insisting that the world tell Iran—and presumably any others it designates too—that it has the obligation to limit Iran’s scientific and technological advancement, period. No refining of uranium, period, and no doubt we’d hear the same about Syria if that was clearer there, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt. Israel is just simply insisting that, ad infinitum, the arab/moslem world be put under the world’s thumb in terms of what technology and/or etc. it will be allowed to have, and how crazy is that? (To this non-Israeli at least.)

    So no, there don’t appear to be any end-game in sight here, and indeed I think one can easily smell war in the not-so-distant future.

    Mr. Prophetic might wanna turn his lens in this direction in thinking about the “jewish future direction” in the Diaspora at least.

  2. Citizen says:

    In those declassified Israeli documents the anger of the US officials at the glaring continued attempt of the Israeli officials, both sides at the top, is steaming off the pages. Yet the Americans did nothing to stop the massacre they clearly knew was going on. They even knew an IDF colonel shot directly at a US Marine guard at our embassy.

    Little people have been getting shoved off this Ark for some time now. Who’s that at the wheel? Bibi? Now Joe Lieberman, now Bibi, now Joe–they’re taking turns, as high and dry as anyone can be, steering the course over the waves. Oh, now the two newest cabin boys are up there too, Obama and Mittens.