Exile and the prophetic: Hope against hope

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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.

We don’t have to romanticize/historic Jewish leaders like Rabbi Judah Magnes and Rabbi Marshall Meyer to point out how weak, one might say pathetic, current Jewish leadership is.  Nor need we romanticize the past to want more in the present. 

Current Jewish leadership, including and especially Progressive Jewish leadership, is totally inadequate.  It’s a scandal really.

We’ve been living this scandal for decades.  That the leadership of B’nai Jeshurun took pains to reassure its congregants after ‘alienating’ a portion of their congregation by embracing the United Nations vote on Palestine shouldn’t surprise us.  What’s surprising is that some hardened veterans of the Jewish civil war thought the leadership might stand its ground. 

These veterans should have known better.  Then why did they hope against hope that the synagogue leadership would stand tall? Is it because they still held out hope that alienation could be risked for justice’s sake? That someone in Jewish officialdom would finally stand up and be counted – and survive?

Hope against hope is real when even those who should know better – don’t.

Jews of Conscience keep plugging away at subverting the powers that be.  They aren’t getting very far.  Still hope is alive.  Is there an alternative?

There’s despair, of course.  At least for me, the best evidence of despair is when Jewish and non-Jewish commentators on the Left hail Israel as the loser in the Gaza stand-off. Or when these same commentators believe that Israel’s proposed new settlement construction that closes the ring around Jerusalem is a victory for their version of the one-state solution. 

They place a happy face on a deteriorating situation.  It strains any semblance of credulity.

We’re all waiting for that wild card that changes Israel/Palestine for the better.  We want it so much that we grasp at any straw we find. 

It’s ridiculous to think Rabbis have the courage to risk their prestige – and jobs – by standing up for justice. It’s unreasonable to think Netanyahu’s various political gambles are the final brick in the wall for Palestinian freedom. What evidence do we have that makes these hopes realistic?

Fortunately, this, too, shall pass.  When it does, though, we’ll probably be deeper in our collective mess.   Or a compromise will be reached that is acceptable to few, if any, of those who thought the lay leadership might hold and Jerusalem settlements might be the last note of injustice.

Yes, I hope as well for the cumulative effect filed under: ‘The worse it gets the closer we are to victory.”

Round and round we go.  If we don’t celebrate what we think is the path of reversing Israel’s power – even if it isn’t real –is the alternative to sit idly by and complain? 

Defeatism isn’t the best response to defeat.

Declaring victory in defeat is an illusion.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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