Culture

Mourning the Jewish New Year

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How sad the end is. I rend my garments. I mourn.

Last week, I listened to Barack Obama, an African American and my President, speak at the United Nations. I became sad beyond words. I wonder where his sense of history went.

I am a Jew. President Obama spoke of Jewish history – the years of exile and persecution, the Holocaust, the return to our ancient homeland. We deserve the respect of our Arab neighbors and the world.

I wonder if he speaks of American history in the same way.

Peoples and nations have their travails. History is bleak. We search for the good.

Is it possible to remain silent about slavery? Slavery is the defining moment of American history.

Can Jews be silent about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine? The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is among the defining moments of contemporary Jewish history.

Yes, persecution, exile, Holocaust and return. Now the violence of the Israeli state. The occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel will not stop itself. Palestinians cannot stop Israel. Many Jews and Palestinians want a way beyond this endless violence. When the powerful deny the history we Jews are creating we become stuck in a quagmire. We sink deeper.

Some Jews worry about those who deny that the Holocaust occurred. Denying that 6 million Jews were murdered in Europe during the Nazi period is horrendous. Beyond words.

Yet in the President Obama’s address there is no mention of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948. What is still happening to the Palestinians. Don’t Palestinians have a history that needs acknowledgement?

Palestinians refer to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine as the Nakba, in Arabic, the Catastrophe.

Mr. President, are you a Nakba denier?

1948 may be inconsequential to you and indeed for many Jews. But just as the Holocaust needs to be remembered, the Nakba needs to be remembered.

Without remembering, how will we get to the root of the Catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinian people?

Or to the root of the catastrophe that has also befallen the Jewish people?

There are catastrophes that happen to you. There are catastrophes you create for others.

That Jews brought catastrophe to another people is a stain on Jewish history.

Our history of exile, persecution, Holocaust and the return to our ancient homeland now includes the Nakba.

No presentation of Jewish history makes sense without including what Jews have done and are doing to the Palestinians. Not in books on Jewish history. Not in presentations by Jewish academics. Not in policy statements from Jewish organizations. Not in press releases from Israel’s Prime Minister. Not from the peace process Quartet. Not from the President of the United States.

I won’t attempt a rendition of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address at the United Nations. It was worse than President Obama’s. Much worse. Shameful.

The Jewish High Holidays are upon us. Time to celebrate the New Year. Time to hone our repentance.

Time to mourn.

The Jewish High Holidays come and go. We recite our history of exile and persecution, Holocaust and the return to our ancient homeland. We are silent about the Nakba.

Endless the end. That has no ending.

Only mourning can save us now, Jews and Palestinians together. For what has been lost. For could have been. For what could be.

Denying the Nakba only delays the reckoning.

And the mourning.

Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University. He is the author of many books, most recently Encountering the Jewish Future: with Wiesel, Buber, Heschel, Arendt, Levinas.

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“That Jews brought catastrophe to another people is a stain on Jewish history.”

And decades of silence.

The ancient homeland claims are weak.

Very moving and so true. History is not exclusive it is inclusive and the more you deny your history, the good and the bad, the more you are bound to repeat it. Marc, this was a good write up, I still have a hard time accepting the referneces to the two groups as JEWS and Palestinians. What are Palestinians if not, JEWS, CHRISTIANS and MOSLEMS alike. And who are those JEWS who take the opposite… Read more »

Jewish history is stained because we contributed to the displacement of another people to survive, a displacement that was nothing unusual for the times, was assumed to be necessary by the world powers in order to keep peace in the Middle East, and was caused at least as much by the actions of Arabs as by the Jews. If Jewish history is stained, Christian history is filthy and so is Muslim history. Both have done… Read more »

Not quite the right thread for this, but Marc Ellis, you’re bothered by Obama and so am I. Here is his great speech from the UN – the one he’ll never make, no matter what Israel does, because he has no moral core, just a good speechwriter: PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning. Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of us all, thank you for convening this meeting to address a task that must be the work of… Read more »

“Jewish history is stained because we contributed to the displacement of another people to survive” There was no threat to the survival of “the Jews” in 1948. Nor did most individual Jews need to displace anyone to survive. ” a displacement that was nothing unusual for the times,” That doesn’t make it right. ” was assumed to be necessary by the world powers in order to keep peace in the Middle East,” “World Powers”, in… Read more »