This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Another Yom Kippur has arrived. That special time of reflection and confession is upon us. Yet the reflection and confessional pickings are slim. In the mainstream Jewish communities of Israel and America there has been little reflection. The confession we Jews should have made, the confession we Jews have to make, won’t be made today.
So we begin yet another New Year, this being the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories that weren’t occupied in 1948,with no sign, no sign at all, that Jews in any great number in Israel or America are ready to step back and assess the fundamental questions facing us a people. Has our commemoration of the Holocaust and celebration of Israel run its course? Have the twin events that define contemporary Jewish life brought us closer to ourselves. our ethical heritage, to others, to the world community?
Increasingly, and now definitively, our personal and collective answer has to be no. Just the opposite. As Jews, we have descended precipitously and, for all odds, permanently. Where others once looked to us for prophetic light, they now turn away. When they look our way a second time, hoping against hope that their first impression was wrong, it gets worse. Instead of prophetic light, others see a people dwelling in a self-imposed darkness, without critical thought, militarized and constantly teaching others lessons we, ourselves, refuse to learn. Are they wrong?
On Yom Kippur, the day of confession and change, for what is confession without change, we try to side-step the issue, deflect it and turn our anger outward. Yet everyone around the world knows the real score. Increasing number of Jews do as well. But what to do with this knowledge from without and within?
In the synagogues across Israel and America the knowledge of our culpability is buried. That we have become ethnic cleansers is impossible for most Jews to relate to. That we have permanently ghettoized the Palestinian people is a non-starter, a sign of betrayal and self-hate. Jews as ethnic cleansers and ghettoizers? Impossible.
This curious transposition, wherein Jews have become almost everything we loathed about our oppressors, is certainly possible, has already occurred and now defines us as a people. This means that our Yom Kippur confession is right here, easy to verify, if we would only listen to Jews of Conscience and the interfaith and international chorus.
We won’t listen on Yom Kippur, simply because we haven’t listened on any other day of the Jewish year. Nonetheless, the struggle continues. On a future Yom Kippur the Jewish confession – “What we as Jews have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong. What we as Jews have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong” – will be spoken. Will it be too late to make a difference?