Israel must do more to integrate the Mizrahi narrative

Rena Nasar’s grandfather or jidoh escaped violence and state-sanctioned persecution in Syria, walking for 20 hours until he reached Israel. Why is his story not told, and isn’t it time that Mizrahim were given a seat at the table, Rena asks in the Jerusalem Post:

I grew up knowing that my jidoh’s story, like that of so many Mizrahi Jews, was inseparable from Israel’s story.

YET, in most presentations and programs about Israel, my community is
not represented, my jidoh is not represented, I am not represented.

encounter this problem in my own work as an Israel educator. Sometimes,
well-meaning programs inadvertently center the Ashkenazi experience and
tokenize us as an exotic “other.” Other times, we are exploited to
promote anti-Israel agendas that hardly any of us would ever support.
More often, our story isn’t mentioned at all.

My most recent trip
to Israel was illustrative of this problem. At Mount Bental, as my
group overlooked Syria, our guide talked about Syrians and Israelis but
never mentioned Syrian Jews. I stood in the back, debating if I should
speak up about what Syria – now caught in a vicious civil war – meant to
my community and how its expulsion and escape, along with the expulsion
of Jews from other neighboring countries, shaped the Middle East.

Chief rabbi Jacob Shaul Dwek, Aleppo, 1907


written out of or misrepresented in the story of Israel and the Jewish
people is crippling. It can even trigger an identity crisis that leads
members of my community to disengage from Israel and their heritage. Yet
this is what happens in far too many programs that are aimed at
fostering connections to Israel and Jewish identity.

How many
American Jews know that the Holocaust extended deep into the Middle
East? Can we meaningfully talk about the abuse Egyptian Jews faced or
the veritable house arrest Syrian Jews lived under until 1992? I’d argue
that education about the Middle East is woefully incomplete if we
disregard the still-recent history of families like mine.

my organization, StandWithUs, has developed materials centered on the
plight of Middle Eastern Jews and given Mizrahi employees like myself a
platform to share our stories, more must be done by us and others. This
is why I want to challenge Jewish institutions and communities to do
better at integrating Mizrahi Jews into our communal narrative. Here are
just a few possible steps toward that goal: • Examine Israel curricula
and programs, and incorporate our story systematically.

This should be done together with Mizrahi scholars, as well as organizations like Jimena and 30 Years After.

• Mentor young Mizrahi leaders for senior roles within Jewish community and Israel education organizations.

• Put Mizrahi stories in the spotlight at high-profile Jewish community events.

• Include Mizrahi and Sephardic religious traditions in our communal spaces.

is not a one-way street. Mizrahi communities must also make a bigger
effort to participate as an unwavering voice. But we must be welcomed
and embraced as we do so. So many important causes today deserve our
time and attention that it can be easy to overlook our internal
struggles. Nevertheless, if we want to reach our potential as a Jewish
community, we must start to fully include members of our family who have
far too often been forgotten.

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