Month: August 2015

Mizrahi pop means you’re having a good time

They’re remarkably free of cynicism, patriotic, romantic, and above all, they’re happy, happy, happy. Israel’s mainstream Israeli pop kings and queens are flaunting their Mizrahi roots: Israel is a Middle Eastern minority having a good time. Read Matti Friedman’s latest piece in The Tablet:


Eden Ben-Zaken’s hit ‘Queen of Roses’ has had 6 million Youtube views 

Sarit Haddad, queen of the Mizrahi scene for the past decade and a half, teamed up in a new video
with the producers of Arisa, a line of gay Mizrahi parties named for a
spicy Tunisian spread. This is the same crew behind the “Tel Aviv”
video, and also the one for “This Isn’t Europe,” which gets my vote for
the best Israeli clip in recent memory in any genre. Sung by Margalit
San’ani, one of Mizrahi music’s elder stateswomen, this song is a
patriotic ode of sorts making fun of Israeli (and, one suspects,
Ashkenazi) hipsters’ trendy and pathetic love for places like Berlin.
“You’re not from London or Amsterdam/ Your face, honey, is from Bat
Yam,” she sings, naming one of Tel Aviv’s sweatier suburbs. The clip,
which stars a guy flouncing around dirty streets in a ball gown, is a
national document as poignant as “Hatikvah.” I can’t watch it without
wondering what Herzl would think.

The neighbourhood may be going to pot, but Israeli youth are having a good time

As that song indicates, a kind of unapologetic national loyalty is
present in Mizrahi music as it no longer is in most other Israeli songs,
which these days tend to opt for angst, sarcasm, or attempts to pretend
we’re all somewhere else. More and more Israeli artists sing in
English. But rootlessness is not going to yield much worth listening to,
and Israeli audiences know it. Mizrahi music doesn’t pretend to be from
anywhere but right here in Bat Yam, honey. It’s not just Israeli music,
in other words, but the most Israeli music there is. Many aspects of
Israel’s politics and cultural life, like the film industry, are warped
by international interest and money and tailored to foreign
specifications. Mizrahi music is immune, and everything about it is
local. In a new dance number by Eden Ben-Zaken we get the following patriotic expression, apropos of nothing in particular:

The whole city’s up on the roof, on the tables

Everyone’s clapping, raise your glasses!

Welcome to Israel

Can you tell the difference?

You’ve reached paradise, say, “Thank God!”

The same attitude is applied to Judaism. The nature of the current
Mizrahi scene in this regard, and in general, can best be summed up with
the following scraps from the Moshe Peretz/Omer Adam concert I went to
in August:

• Songs about heartbreak performed with pathos, inspiring deep
emotional involvement on the part of teenage girls near me, and only
slightly less on the part of their mothers, who were next to them.

• A song about partying with the guys at a cheap weekend destination
popular with Israelis—Bucharest. This is probably the only party song
ever written about Bucharest, at least in a language that is not

• Adam brings out a bottle of mineral water. Peretz puts his hand
over Adam’s head in lieu of a kippah, and Adam recites the Hebrew
blessing said before drinking water. About 8,000 people: “Amen!” The
concert continues.

• A rendition of “Tel Aviv,” camels, gay pride, and all. Dancers strut with peacock feathers. Rainbow stripes flash on screens. Ya habibi!

• Adam sings “I Thank You,”
based on the prayer recited by traditional Jews every morning upon
rising. His movements—arms outstretched, turning from side to side—evoke
a particularly devout worshipper in synagogue.

Or these, from the Facebook page of the young singer Haim Ifargan:

• Selfie in car with aviator glasses.

• Photo in pool with friends.

• Cellphone video of fans.

• Soulful selfie with kippah before the fast day of Tisha Be’av: “Have a meaningful fast [thumbs-up emoji]”

• Clip from a morning TV program in which Ifargan does a slow coverof the Arabic love song “Tamali Ma’ak,” made popular by Amr Diab of Egypt.


Zionism traditionally existed in tension with Judaism and the Middle
East, and there are still quite a few Israelis who don’t think much of
either. Mizrahi music embraces both. If you see Israel as a country of
people who happen to be Jewish and are victims of an unfortunate
accident that dumped them in the Middle East, this music and its success
might grate. But if you accept Israel for what it is—a Middle Eastern
Jewish country—it all makes sense.

Welding torches hiss in the rocket workshops of Gaza; centrifuges
beep and whir under Persian mountains; farmers on our borders hear the
tap-tap-tap of tunneling beneath their fields; up the road the crump of
barrel bombs announces that the world that once expelled Mizrahi Jews is
now destroying itself; from the radio comes the deep-toned blather of
Israeli leaders adept only at confrontation; the odds against a normal
future grow longer and longer—and here is a world of innocent love, of
dancers on tables and lirdim on the town, a place near the sea
where Arabic and Hebrew mix, where Judaism is everything and no big deal
and God just another part of life, like sunshine and cigarettes. When
you hear Mizrahi pop you’re hearing a minority in the Middle East having
a good time. It’s a beautiful sound.

Read article in full

‘Jewish Schindler’ ‘has nothing to hide’

The Montreal Moroccan Jew who says that he and his non-profit group have
rescued 128 Yazidis and Christians from enslavement by Islamic State
(IS) militants in Iraq is fighting back against those questioning his
claims. The Forward reports:

Steve Maman

The attorney for Steve Maman, president of the
Montreal-based group The Liberation of Yazidi and Christian Children of
Iraq (CYCI), has sent the group of Yazidi activists and spiritual
leaders that is demanding an inquiry into his claims a cease and desist
letter ordering them to stop talking to or about him — and threatening
to sue them for $5,000,000 if they don’t.

Read article in full

Extract from Steven Maman’s public statement:(with thanks: Michelle)

“During recent days, CYCI has been the target of accusations and
scrutiny founded on poor journalism and lack of proper research. We have
also seen deep activities of corruption within groups that claim to
protect this oppressed religious group that are the Yazidis. I would
like to publicly address the issues around this and make it known that
CYCI has nothing to hide.

– First and foremost, I believe it to
be a reckless request from the so called Yazidi representatives to
demand CYCI for proof that would compromise our channels because
identifying the victims is going to, by extension, identify the brokers
that give us this unparalleled access to these victims and result in
compromising our mission and our future ability to continue its

– The allegations made are astonishing considering
all the good will seen by CYCI, its volunteers and its avid supporters.
This seems to hint of resentment at the success and not representative
of a true expression of skepticism.

– We call on VICE News/VICE to get into contact with Non-Yazidi organizations (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross)
to whom we will disclose evidence without further publication. Once
this evidence is deemed satisfactory, we will ask Vice News to retract
or edit its previous unfounded statements.

– VICE News has
reported about a letter calling on CYCI to stop taking donations until
it proves that it is doing what it claims. Let it be known that Vice
decided to report about a letter that was not signed by any of its
claimed participants. The letter had no official letterhead either.
Basically, we received a letter lacking proper form with defamatory
statements not based on facts but on assumptions.

– A cease and
desist letter has been issued as our response. CYCI will not deal with
pressure groups – we will deal only with authorities who have
jurisdiction in the matter.”

New Mizrahi music wave finds Arab success

 A-wa: success in the Arab world

A-wa, a new Israeli all-girl girl bandinspired by Yemenite musical culture, are taking the Arab world by storm. They and Dana International, the late Ofra Haza and almost all the other Israeli artists who have found success in the Arab world have their Mizrahi heritage in common, Gaar Adams writes in ‘Sick Beats and Sykes-Picot’ (Foreign Policy):

Haza, the most famous Israeli musical artist to break into the Arab
market, is also perhaps the most revered Israeli singer in the country’s
history. Haza’s musical explorations of her Yemeni heritage won her
tremendous popularity — and surprising adoration in the Arab world.

Born in 1957 to Jewish immigrants who fled Yemen to escape religious
persecution less than two decades earlier, Haza was raised in the
impoverished Tel Aviv slum of Hatikva. The youngest of nine children,
she grew up surrounded by family members singing the songs of her
ancestral homeland. After finding initial fame by winning a national
singing competition as a teenager, Haza completed her compulsory
two-year Israeli military service in the late 1970s and then returned to
singing with a string of hit pop singles and albums in Israel.

As one of the first high-profile Israeli pop singers of Middle
Eastern heritage, Haza was drawn back to the traditional songs of her
childhood after her initial run of success in the early 1980s. It was
these recordings — like her biggest album, Yemenite Songs, released in 1984 — that drew the attention of fans from outside of Israel and, particularly, inside the Arab world.

In an interview in 2008, one radio executive explained
that the success of Aderet came in part because of the bridges that
Ofra Haza had built years earlier: “We grew up in Beirut listening to
Ofra Haza, “he said. “It is just music.”


One of Ofra Haza’s most popular songs, based on the Hebrew poem by  17th c. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi,  “Im Nin’alu” (If The Doors Are Unlocked).

Haza was vocal about her relationship with fans from the Arab world,
going so far as attempt an unprecedented goodwill trip to Yemen in 1995
as an Israeli artist. (A month before the planned visit, the trip was
abruptly canceled after local media harshly criticized Yemeni Foreign
Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani for his quote in an Israeli newspaper assuring that he would help secure Haza a visa.)

When asked about her Arab following before her untimely death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, Haza said,
“I get fan letters from Cairo, Kuwait, Dubai, Jordan, Syria. It’s
wonderful to see that music has nothing to do with politics. We don’t
have the power of politicians, but we have our power to unite people.”

Dana International, Ofra Haza, and almost all of the Israeli artists
who have found any measure of success in the Arab world have had one
thing in common: their Mizrahi heritage, as Israeli Jews descended from
the Middle East.

“Dana’s music issues from a wider and extremely rich phenomenon of
Mizrahi pop music in Israel that is Levantine and Middle Eastern … and
is therefore comprehensible and ‘local’ to Arab audiences in the Eastern
Arab world,” Swedenburg wrote in Mass Mediations. “She pushes
at the edges from inside a vibrant and innovating tradition, and this
makes her music lively and exciting for many Egyptian young people….
Dana’s liminality, the fact that she is at once Arab and Jew, is
precisely what makes her dialogue with Egyptian youths possible.”

Before World War II, these Arab-Jewish musicians were an integral
part of the Middle Eastern musical landscape, and their music reflects
their ancestral homelands. Mizrahi artists’ use of traditional Arabic sounds like the oud (a bulbous stringed instrument similar to the lute), the qanun (a
large, stringed soundbox), and quartertone scales originated in North
Africa, Arabia, and the Levant and came to the nation of Israel with the
mass Jewish emigrations of the mid-20th century. But in fleeing their
motherlands to escape persecution, Arab Jewish musicians did not always
find a musical or cultural utopia.

As the new nation worked to forge an identity in the wake of its
founding in 1948, the culture and rights of European — or Ashkenazi —
Jews were perceived as superior to those of the incoming Arab world
immigrants, and Mizrahis were systematically marginalized. This applied to the arts as well: The music of Arab Jews was dismissed as “bus station” or “cassette music”
— a pejorative stemming from the phenomenon of Tel Aviv bus stations
turning into giant informal marketplaces for Mizrahi cassettes — in the
formation of the new Israeli national identity. It wasn’t until artists
like Ofra Haza and Zohar Argovbegan melding traditional Arab-Jewish music with other forms
in the early 1980s, that Mizrahi music truly entered the realm of
greater Israeli pop culture. Indeed, some of the most talented Mizrahi
musicians like the al-Kuwaiti Brothers, who were popular in the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s, are only now — 75 years later — being honored for their historical musical contributions.

* * *

A-Wa is now a part of this new wave of musicians declaring their
Israeli identity while still exploring and reckoning with the
implications of their Mizrahi ancestry. Through a combination of
linguistics, cultural heritage, and some feisty beats, A-Wa is bridging
an entrenched gap between the two musical markets — Israel and the Arab
world — that has only been overcome by a very select group of musicians.

The sisters, who range in age between 25 and 31, are descendants of
Yemeni Jews who relocated to Israel in 1949 through Operation Magic
Carpet — the first wave of a secret operation
to relocate some 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel after the country’s
establishment. And like many Mizrahi Jews, the Haim sisters grew up
singing the songs of their ancestral homeland, with its rich oral
history having been passed down through the generations. “We used to
steal all of our dad’s old records to listen to the old music,” says
Tagel Haim, the youngest A-Wa sister.

In collecting this material for their debut album, the sisters
decided to release a full LP of songs comprised of Yemeni poetry. Some
of the songs they recorded were familiar from their childhood, with
lyrics and melodies that were ingrained at an early age. Others were
songs that they only discovered in ransacking Mizrahi musical catalogs,
like those of Shlomo Moga’a,
a Yemeni musician who immigrated to Israel after World War II — many of
which included ancient Yemeni songs that were only first recorded in
the mid-20th century, once these Yemeni-Jewish musicians landed in

Before immigrating, the Jewish women of Yemen recorded their own kind
of oral history outside of the male-dominated synagogues by passing
down poetry through the generations in the local Yemeni dialect. These
records reckoned
both with life’s mundane tasks — cooking food and gathering water — as
well as its tragedies: a family torn apart, an infant lost too soon.
Women often added their own verses and tinkered with their own melodies
in the poems as they were passed through the years. It was in the spirit
of this kind of flexible artistic license that A-Wa’s hit, “Habib
Galbi,” was born.

“This tradition allowed us to use history but also do our own thing
to the songs on our album,” said Tair Haim, the oldest Haim sister.

But initially, even the sisters’ father — who himself dreamed of
being a musician when he was younger — was puzzled as to why they
fixated on Yemeni oral culture.

“At first he didn’t understand why we chose this direction. But then
he heard us sing it together like when we were younger,” said Liron
Haim, 29, the middle sister of the A-Wa trio. “He remembered our
connection to it.”

* * *

It was the Arab world’s relationship to poetry that helped Haza
transform from a well-known singer into a global sensation — her album Yemenite Songs was a collection of classical Yemeni poetry much like A-Wa. “Nin’alu,”
her biggest hit, was actually a poem written 400 years earlier by
renowned 17th-century Yemeni-Jewish poet Shalom Shabazi on the glory of
the divine:

If there be no mercy left in the world,

The doors of heaven will never be barred.

The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher

than the angels

All, in His spirit, will rise.

To this day, poetry is still highly regarded across the Middle East,
and poetry from Yemen — in hailing from the region where the oral form
originated and first flourished — is often revered
as the region’s most pure and exalted. It is difficult to overstate
poetry’s popularity: Even one of the Gulf’s largest television shows, Prince of Poets, cashes in on the phenomenon by pitting the region’s best against one other in the style of an American Idol
competition. Like Ofra Haza, A-Wa is accessing the Arab market by
tapping into the same proven cultural capital of this highly respected
artistic form as ancestors and transmitters of the tradition.

Read article in full

Yazidis demand proof of Jew’s rescue mission

Update: Steve Maman has responded to accusations against him.

Vice News is questioning whether the ‘Jewish Schindler’, a Moroccan-born Jew living in Montreal called Steve Maman, has indeed rescued as many Yazidis and Christians as he said he has. His partner in the rescue mission, Canon Andrew White, has poured scorn on the suggestion that Maman is dishonest or is misusing his funds. Maman himself responds on his website:(With thanks: Gina)

 Steven Maman (Photo: Brigitte Noel)

A group of Yazidi spiritual and political leaders, activists, and aid
workers are demanding an inquiry into the work of a Montreal man who
claims to have rescued 128 Yazidi and Christian women and children
enslaved by Islamic State militants.

Steve Maman has attracted
international attention for his Canadian non-profit group, The
Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI), which on
its website
claims to have “single handedly helped save over 120 Yazidi and
Christian women and children from ISIS [Islamic State, or IS] controlled
territories in Iraq” through a network of volunteers. Headlines
affectionately dubbed the Moroccan-born Jew and luxury car and
crystal dealer the “Jewish Schindler.”

As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe page he set up in early July had swelled to more than $580,000 from donors around the world.

now, concerned members of the Yazidi community in Iraq and the United
States — including their top spiritual leader Baba Sheikh — have issued a
written statement calling on Maman to cease taking donations until he
proves that he’s doing the work he says he’s doing. (…)

Maman, on the other hand, argued that his group “actually were able
to prove (…), with pictures, fingerprints and documents that
the people that we have liberated were documented like no other
liberators on the ground … The only one that is able to show
credibility so far is me.”

Maman said Dawood (an assistant)  brought only 15 names
because that is all they felt comfortable disclosing. “We didn’t want
to divulge anything else other than that. The reason behind it is
simple: we knew that if we showed the other 113 names that are missing,
these people were going to go running to them to…pay, to take photo-ops
and take away those liberations from us.”

Maman showed VICE News
images of Dawood with the rescued girls and children, followed by photos
of the Iraqi man with the Maman family. These, he says, prove that his
organization is legitimate.

But when asked to provide proof of the
128 rescued people, Maman showed around 20 photos of the men, women,
and children. A handful of these were members of Dawood’s family,
according to Maman, who showed VICE News an email he’d received,
containing photocopies of the relatives’ official documents and

Maman explained that he trusts only one member of the
Yazidi community. “It’s the representative of the Yazidi prince in the
world. He’s in Baghdad at the head office of the prince. You know there
was a king, a Yazidi king, did you know that?” he asked.

said in a second phone call on Tuesday that he would be conducting a
rescue mission in the Kurdistan region on Wednesday and that two
journalists would be present to witness it. “There’s going to be one
very prominent United States journalist … somebody on the ground
representing Glenn Beck
… his name is Matt …” said Maman, who couldn’t recall Matt’s last
name. “He’s already met with our team and all that, and he’s going on a
liberation, he’s going to videotape.”

“We’re basically going to
have a lot of people there, so we’re going to end the rumors on the
ground and we’re going to show people how we do it compared to others,”
he added. (…)

Reverend Canon Andrew White, who is affiliated with Maman’s group,
brushed off any concerns that the group isn’t above board. In a phone
interview with VICE News on Tuesday, he said the group has “evidence of

“I couldn’t care less what they say. They’re not on
the ground doing it. Of course people will say this. They say this all
the time. And I’m not going to argue. Now people are being killed doing
it. We’re not in here just to mess around with journalists,” he said
before hanging up the phone.

Read article in full 

Jewish ‘Schindler’ has nothing to hide’

Moroccan-Jewish saviour for Yazidis and Christians

Israel warns citizens not to visit Morocco

 Moroccan tourism  will be hard hit by an Israeli security alert warning Israeli tourists to avoid visiting the kingdom, Actu-Maroc reports.

A synagogue in Morocco

Israelis come to Morocco at different times of the year to visit family or take part in pilgrimages to saints’ tombs, or simply to see the country of birth of their parents.

This bonanza will dry up in view of the Israeli authorities’ firm insistence, on the basis of its information sources, that terrorist attacks are increasingly likely.

Moroccan tour operators have been pinning their hopes on increased Israeli tourism for the festival of Hanucah between 6 and 15 December. Whole families have tended to come to Morocco at that time to visit the graves of their ancestors.

Read article in full (French)


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