This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Now that Cornel West has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President, at least in the primaries, perhaps Bernie might think of attending synagogue during the upcoming High Holidays. After all, lots of high profile Jews will be attending services. Politically it could be advantageous for Bernie to appear in synagogue, especially to an American populace skeptical of Bernie’s socialism.
My suggestion for Bernie’s High Holiday observance is Tzedek Chicago which has just announced two big names as guests for their first round of High Holiday services. For Rosh Hashanah, it’s Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, one of the first female rabbis and a proponent of non-violence for social change. Whether she’s a declared socialist or not, she’s certainly with Bernie in spirit. And she’s a huge fan of BlackLivesMatter as well as an interfaith solidarity that moves beyond the interfaith dialogue that continues to feed empire violence.
But Tzedek Chicago’s other guest will challenge Bernie even more. Yes, it’s Max Blumenthal, whose earlier book, Goliath, exposed Israel for what it had become and new book on Gaza, The 51 Day War, is even more damning of Israeli violence. The kicker is that Blumenthal is scheduled at Tzedek Chicago on Judaism’s holiest and most difficult day of year, Yom Kippur.
For non-Jews who aren’t familiar with Yom Kippur and for Jews who are too familiar with Yom Kippur, the holy day features fasting and confession. In the rabbinic paradigm, Yom Kippur is the final day of reckoning. If God doesn’t hear a confession, the real deal, confessed first to those you have transgressed against, you’re likely to end up outside the Book of Life.
Leaving aside American emphasis on individuality, there are times when God thinks that sin is communal. Read the Bible for the times that the people Israel didn’t do the right thing. It isn’t pretty.
I don’t think Tzedek Chicago is bringing Blumenthal in to deliver a religious sermon. My hunch is that Blumenthal will just lay out the facts of Israel’s assault on Gaza. I doubt he’ll leave out Israel’s masterful control of Gaza’s (lack of) rebuilding in the wake of the war either.
Blumenthal’s Gaza facts might move the congregation to a deeper religious reckoning. Will his secular confession move the broader Jewish community toward justice? Embodied justice would force the Jewish religious and political establishment to publicly confess that Israel has gone over the edge of anything remotely to be identified as Jewish. They would have to do something about that injustice since another feature of Yom Kippur is that confession without action to right the wrong doesn’t go very far. With or without God.
Tzedek Chicago is stirring the Jewish pot. The question is how long even the most die-hard Israel lovers can feast at the table of injustice.
As with BlackLivesMatter, Bernie has to bite the Jewish bullet. So far in his political career, Bernie’s progressive Zionist credentials have served him well. For the change he’s articulating in his presidential campaign, though, Bernie has to move on Israeli violence and Palestinian freedom.
Like his new supporter, Cornel West, Bernie should listen to Max Blumenthal. After Yom Kippur, the three might become an excellent team.