1950s Israel ‘secularised’ religious Mizrahi children

Trained as a lawyer specializing in the rights of children,Yair Ronen is now a lecturer at Ben Gurion university. His work looks at how Israel’s doctrinaire socialism ‘secularised’  young Mizrahi immigrants from religious backgrounds. Jeremy Rosen explains in the Algemeiner:

Observant children from Yemen in a ma’abara or tent camp in Israel

Ronen’s personal experience informs his work. He was born in Israel
to Iranian Jewish parents. Like many immigrant families in the early
years of Israel’s existence, he felt the prejudice of the European
Ashkenazi Jews. The atmosphere in Israel in the first 30 years of the
state was one in which the secular ideology of the elite looked down on
religion and tried its best to impede or discourage it.

Ronen’s family moved to London for a few years, where he went to
school. There he encountered a very different world, different ways of
dealing with prejudice. Anglo Jews tended to suppress their issues with
identity and the prevailing antisemitism. They were expected to play
down Jewish identity in public. In some, this led to an aggressive

This is particularly relevant in Israel, to which well over a million
Jewish refugees from Arab lands (and Iran – ed) came after 1948. Some were forced out
of the countries where they had been living, others eagerly left
persecution. Their culture was Arabic (Middle eastern – ed) as well as Jewish. Their music,
literature, language, mentalities, values and passions were oriental,
not occidental. They were more sympathetic to tradition than most
Ashkenazi Jews. And they were made to feel less-than because of it.

The result was some disastrous social engineering. For example, in
the early years, unaccompanied immigrant minors were sent to Youth
Aliyah villages where they were denied religious services by the secular
agencies for immigration. The religious parties protested and
negotiated a deal whereby 25% of unaccompanied minors would be sent to
religious absorption centers.

In 1958, after the religious quota had been filled, a boat arrived
from Morocco with religious children. They were packed off to a secular
Youth Aliyah center near Haifa. The yeshiva where I was studying had
been alerted to their plight, and we were encouraged to visit the
village in support of the children. We were refused entry. Through the
wire fences we spoke to them. Some were crying because they were denied
all religious services, and the staff were constantly upbraiding and
teasing them for being old fashioned. There was nothing we could do. The
religious parties had to stand by their agreement. Incidentally, this
was the beginning of my distaste for religious party politics. But
nothing could better illustrate the cultural imperialism of doctrinaire

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