Mourning the Jewish New Year – Marc Ellis

 Mourning the Jewish New Year

Marc H. Ellis


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.

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 what 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.









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