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Stop the Yom Kippur prayers if they don’t make sense in the Gaza rubble

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Yom Kippur. Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Is there anything more to be said? Or done?

Take direct action. It might force a reckoning.

tumblr_ncsgqzn2s11tz6br2o1_1280Here’s Ethan Heitner’s vision. Before the Yom Kippur service spirit away the Torah scrolls in the Ark and replace them with a computer printout with the names of every Gazan killed in Israel’s invasion. The rabbi then announces to the assembled congregation that, instead of the traditional prayers, she will read each name of the dead. The congregation judges: Did this person deserve to die? The rabbi is clear: “Only in this manner can we seek atonement this year.”

I would add an appropriate background to the computer printouts – helicopter gunships, the Apartheid Wall, invading Israeli soldiers and alike. What’s an Ark without a background?

Also add Max Blumenthal’s photos from Gaza. They help visualize everything we need to know.

Without leaving out a word from Jews in South Africa who know what apartheid – and the struggle against it – looks like.

Storify Yom Kippur synagogues. Roll down the screens. Darken the sanctuaries. Read the names of the dead. Enter the rubble of Gaza. Judge ourselves as God will judge us.

Devastation as far as the eye can see is our Yom Kippur geography.

If a closing prayer is a must, chant the Amidah. The Shema. Anything that comes to mind.

With a caveat. Stop the prayers if they don’t make sense in the Gaza rubble. If a prayer doesn’t make sense when the names of the murdered are read, call up another prayer. This goes for any comments that are made as well.

If they make sense in the presence of the Gazan dead. Otherwise be silent.

Many Jews are in Gaza Denial. At least those Jews who still believe there’s something left of the ethical tradition we inherit.

Perhaps this is true all over – the Lutherans have their special brand of Prophet Denial. Think of the number Heitner could do on Prophet Denial among Christians. It would be a hoot if it wasn’t so serious – and deadly.

But on Yom Kippur I’m talking Jewish. We who are called to embody the prophetic.

A light unto the nations begins at home.

Yet Jews of Conscience can’t go very far without other seekers as well.

I’m thinking of Christians of Conscience who’ve taken a bite out of the Jewish prophetic and have nowhere to call home. Their heavily-endowed corrupt corporate Christian denominations are on their last legs.

Without each other, Jews and Christians are out in the exile cold – alone.

Add Muslims of Conscience. They need our hands as they extend their hands to us.

Is Yom Kippur, the most separate day of the Jewish calendar, now a call for an interfaith solidarity that enfolds us in a new dynamic of confession and action for justice?

Direct action Yom Kippur. It isn’t only for Jews anymore.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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2 Responses

  1. W.Jones on October 3, 2014, 4:14 pm

    I’m thinking of Christians of Conscience who’ve taken a bite out of the Jewish prophetic and have nowhere to call home. Their heavily-endowed corrupt corporate Christian denominations are on their last legs.

    I’m not aware of mainstream Christians being removed from their parishes over the issue, although I know that some have been removed from staff positions, like Rev. Shipman. Their parish can still be their “home”. However, I believe that in some cases famous progressive activists have left churches in America over issues, like Abolitionism in the 19th century. Isaac Hopper was one who left or was expelled from the Quakers for that reason.

    Sure, denominations are in decline, unfortunately.

    Without each other, Jews and Christians are out in the exile cold – alone.
    No, but I find it much better when they are together.

  2. Liz18 on October 4, 2014, 11:15 am

    Thank you Mark Ellis, for writing this. As I sit here feeling guilty for not wanting to go to synagogue today, your piece made me feel better about it and gave me language for what I haven’t been able to say. The guilt I feel is so old and strong that I wasn’t able to see that what I really miss at synagogue is the call to consciousness. I simply can’t sit with other Jews who are wearing their talit and kipahs, bending their knees in prayer, rocking back and forth as though to remain in denial.

    Yes, a new way to usher in this holiday needs to emerge; one that I can’t even picture yet in my mind. Long gone are the days of sitting in shul with my family, feeling safe and secure as I watched all the adults don their talit, the white fabric looking as though it’s flying far above me.

    I need to stop the prayers because they don’t make sense in the Gaza rubble.

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