Practicing Exile: The Religious Odyssey of an American Jew

Practicing Exile: The Religious Odyssey of an American Jew

Practicing Exile: The Religious Odyssey of an American Jew

Practicing Exile: The Religious Odyssey of an American Jew

Synopsis

Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Excerpt

This memoir recounts my religious odyssey, a search for Jewish identity and authenticity, even while “practicing exile.” I am trying in these pages to understand what it means to he Jewish in the world and in our time. Although not overtly about politics or the Middle East or global economic structures, these realities figure in my search. What, after all, does it mean to be Jewish when helicopter gunships become the defining witness of Jewish life?

Two haunting images stay with me as I survey my own journey and the contemporary landscape of Jewish life. the first is Jews of conscience walking slowly into exile. For the most part, these Jews are secular, at least in their self-definition. in my mind’s eye they are carrying the covenant with them.

The second image involves the Ark of the Covenant, biblical in origin and now the center of the modern synagogue. in the Ark are the Torah scrolls, covered in decorated cloth and removed from the Ark with prayers and solemnity, to be read and pondered during the synagogue service. As I look toward the Ark, my mind sees two Torah scrolls in the background and in the foreground a helicopter gunship. As a liturgical symbol, the helicopter gunship is stripped of its menacing physicality. Like the body of Christ in Christian worship, the helicopter gunship is cleaned up, silver, sleek, and gleaming.

I write these words after the first anniversary of the second Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000, and in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Contrary to public pronouncements and commentary, these events have not changed everything. Rather, they . . .

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