A State of Exile


A methodical exile is taking place; the exile of location and exile of the mind

Yishai Fleisher

22 September 2007

Israel Opinion


We all know what exile is. Exile is when you get kicked off your land. But that's not the worst exile. A nation may be forcibly exiled from its land, but if the nation longs to return, sets days to mourn the eviction, remembers every inch of the land, remembers its history there, reveres the holy places and burial sites of their forefathers, and teaches every successive generation to remember - in such a scenario, the exile is never complete because the relationship between the people and their land is never fully severed.



Memory, education, and yearning – these are all methods of warding off the full effects of exile, and they can sustain a nation until the time comes when the exile can be reversed and a return can commence.


But what then is a full exile? A full exile is when the connection between the land and the people is forgotten. If there is no memory of prior ownership, no longing to return, no stories told to children, then the exile brought about by an enemy nation which wished to impose a disconnect between the people and its land comes into full effect. If the very fact that the nation has been exiled is forgotten, then that is true exile.


The idea that the loss of collective national memory brings true exile has a surprising corollary: a nation can be in a state of exile even while living on its original soil! Like a person suffering from amnesia while sitting in his own house – a nation may be so utterly without memory that it has no idea that it is at home.


Rachel's Tomb

Such is the case in Israel today. The memory that has been carried in our collective conscience for two thousand years has steadily worn away and no longer serves to keep the exile at bay. Take, for example, the case of the Tomb of Rachel.


In terms of emotional connection, Rachel's Tomb is unequaled for the Jewish people. From the biblical narrative of Rachel's life, to Jeremiah's account of her crying for her children going to exile and God's promise of their return, to the generations who visited her grave, to the beautiful mausoleum constructed by Moshe Montefiore in 1841, the memory of Rachel's Tomb in the olive orchards of Bethlehem has kept us connected to this place through out the long exile. In 1919, Louis Brandies stood next to Rachel's Tomb at sunset and said "I know now why all the world wanted this land and why all peoples loved it."


Go to Rachel's Tomb today – if you can. A monstrosity of walls, pillboxes, gates, and chains has been erected to ostensibly keep the would-be intruder away. The place is downright ugly, and if you did manage to get in to the compound, soldiers do not allow you to walk around freely, because, they claim, danger is everywhere, even inside the labyrinth of high walls.


Take your children there. As you pass into the prison-like fortress try to teach your children about the Matriarch Rachel, our mother Rachel. You will not succeed because you will not be able to communicate a sense of the value of the place. It is too ugly, too military, too filled with fear, it is simply unattractive both physically and emotionally.


Only those who remember Rachel's Tomb the way it used to be can still have an emotional connection to the place. If the current state of affairs continues, the next generation will not remember Rachel's Tomb and the exile from this place will be stronger then it has been in two thousand years. Just as we are exiled from the physical Rachel's Tomb, Rachel's Tomb is being exiled from our minds.


This phenomenon of exile is not only at Rachel's Tomb – it's everywhere. The Tomb of Joseph in Nablus is gone, destroyed by Arabs, abandoned by Israel. Hebron, home and burial place of the patriarchs is constantly in the crosshairs of destruction. The Temple Mount, the place of two Jewish temples, is being systematically neutered of its history (let alone its future value). Judea and Samaria, the biblical heartland, is now being cut off by a snaking wall, which scars the land and cuts us off from our history and heritage. The exiling forces seem to attack the very places where our collective memory was strongest.


Cerebral exile

As we have noted, physical exile is one thing, but cerebral exile, the cutting off of memory is the final guillotine of exile. Here, the groundwork for forced forgetting has been in the works for decades.


On the one hand, the Jewish people's historical connection to the land has been systematically un-taught. In schools, many Jewish children learn to hate the Bible, learn a revisionist anti-Zionist history, and are simply never taught the stories and the emotional connection to places like Rachel's Tomb.


On the other hand, a new milieu and accompanying lingo fill the void left in the young mind: Occupation, Palestine, Peace, and Post-Zionism.


Our history and with it, our emotional connection to our land, is being erased.


This is not the first time when an attempt to sever the Jewish memory of the land of Israel has been made. Of course, there were the two great exiles when the Babylonians and the Romans sacked Jerusalem and dispossessed the nation.


Yet there is another case that is a clearer reflection of what is happening today: Yerovam Ben Navat was a wicked Jewish king of the Northern tribes during the period of the divided kingdom (10th century BCE). He wanted his vassals to forget about the Davidic dynasty that still reigned in Jerusalem and therefore built two idolatrous temples as an alternative to the one that stood in Jerusalem and bade his people to worship in these shrines.


But the people persisted in going up to the real Temple, so Yerovam then constructed manned roadblocks that barred aliyah to Jerusalem. He hoped that by forcibly stopping people from going to Jerusalem he would make people forget all about it. It took two centuries for this "security barrier" to be removed, but by then it was too late, the people had indeed forgotten.


Today, those who still teach and preach a connection with these places are branded extremists, so their message makes little sense to our people. Say the word "Hebron" to a young disconnected Israeli and he will only conjure up an occupied Arab city with a few cantankerous crazy Jews who cause all the problems. The majesty of Hebron's history from Abraham to King David to the first Hasidic settlement of 18th century, to the murderous Arab riots of 1929, to the valiant return in 1967, is completely lost on him. It is no wonder then that for him it makes sense to "give it back" since nothing seems to tie us to these places in the first place.




After waiting for two thousand years to return, Jews are being taught that Hebron isn't Jewish, that Bethlehem isn't Jewish, that Nablus isn't Jewish, that the Temple Mount isn't Jewish. A methodical exile is taking place, the exile of place and the exile of mind.


Yishai Fleisher is the founder of Kumah, a grassroots pro-aliyah organization, and a broadcaster at Israel National Radio

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