Update: watch Ashley Perry, president of Reconectar, being interviewed by Eylon Aslan-Levy on the IBA news channel.
The day that the Biton report recommending more Mizrahi and Sephardi content in Israel’s schools was presented to minister Naftali Bennett was a red-letter day for the 50 percent of Israelis who hail from Arab and Muslim countries. For Ashley Perry in The Times of Israel it means that recognition that there is no one Jewish way in anything, but a myriad of histories, has arrived.
While for many, this will barely merit a blip
on their radar, for the millions of Jews of Sephardi or Mizrahi
background, it is a day that has finally arrived, albeit 68 years too
Statistically, every other Jew in Israel comes
from the Middle East or North Africa and when the Jews of Morocco,
Iran, Spain, Portugal, Yemen, Greece, Afghanistan, Egypt and other
places throughout the Sephardi and Mizrahi world study their history and
culture at school, it was largely ignored or skipped over.
The lack of education about the history of
these Jewish communities allows for bigoted reactions simply largely
because of a lack of knowledge and awareness.
Many still refer to Sephardi Jews as somehow “backward,” “superstitious”, “oriental” or “medieval”, as we heard from a well-known radio film critic recently,
which is simply bizarre when one understands that, to give but one
example, during the last century some of the worldliest, educated,
successful and cosmopolitan Jews in the world could be found in places
like Cairo and Baghdad.
Others will simply refer to Jewish history, culture and tradition through an entirely Ashkenazi lens.
I can’t count the amount of times I have heard
people refer to the “usual” prayer book, the “normal” way of doing
things or “traditional” Jewish culture when referencing Ashkenazi custom
For those who think this is an exaggeration,
try a little thought experiment. When you think of Jewish music, food or
language, do you think of anything other than klezmer, gefilte fish, or
bagel and lox, and Yiddish, or similar examples?
This has an effect of creating an “otherness”
in respect to these communities, which creates the impression that they
are somehow outside the normative social identity of the state and
There is no one Jewish way in anything, not history, culture or tradition.
There are a myriad of histories, a
kaleidoscope of cultures and cacophony of traditions which makes the
Jewish People a beautiful mosaic, each with its roots in our ancestral
homeland but with different experiences during the millennia Diaspora.
The State of Israel has always had a tension
between two models of identity politics, that of ‘melting pot’ and
While many of the founding fathers and mothers
understandably sought to create a ‘New Jew’ and new society for the
reestablishment of sovereignty in our national homeland, it largely
meant that it was constructed along Central and Eastern European lines
that they had experience of and attempted to emulate.
Israelis Jews were expected to melt away their cultural prism into a largely Central and Eastern European pot.
Unfortunately, this meant that the history and
culture of the Jews from other parts of the world were deemed
superfluous and even damaging to this national ethos.
Nevertheless, in recent generations there has
been a greater move towards multiculturalism, where multiple cultural
traditions have gained slightly more prominence, if still not equality.