Month: June 2019

Ayelet Tsabari: How to be a Mizrahi woman writer

Ayelet Tsabari, Israel’s only Yemenite author with a global audience, has written a second book, The Art of Leaving. This interview with Tsabari in Haaretz also looks at Mizrahi women artists through the prism of ‘identity politics’. (With thanks: Lily)

Back in 1988, 21-year-old Ayelet Tsabari was just like thousands of other Israelis celebrating the end of their mandatory army service by backpacking to India and the Far East. But unlike the other young Israeli travelers, she never headed home, choosing instead to embark on a journey that would last for decades.

 Ayelet Tsabari

On a quest to escape Israel, the traditions of her large Yemeni family and the grief of losing her father at a young age, Tsabari exiled herself to New York, Thailand and India. She embraced the nomadic lifestyle, falling in and out of love with men and women, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and occasionally waiting tables in order to earn enough money to set out on the next adventure.

 Wind the tape ahead several years and Tsabari finds herself following her new husband — a fellow traveling spirit she met in India — to Canada. The marriage did not last, but she stayed on.

This wild tale of a modern wandering Jew could have ended there but, tired from years of instability, Tsabari tried to reawaken her old passion: writing. She had been a promising young journalist in her teens, writing regularly for the Israeli daily Maariv.

 But now, in her thirties, the Israeli adventurer had not written in years. And when she did, what emerged were scrambled journal entries in a mixture of Hebrew and English.

In 2006, she published her first work in English. In its wake came 2013’s debut collection of short stories, “The Best Place on Earth.” She continued trying her hand at essays — until it became clear that, together, the essays and stories were a joint attempt to explain to herself why she had fled her home and what she had been running away from.

 The fruits of her labor saw the light of day this February in the form of her befittingly titled memoir “The Art of Leaving.”
In conversation with Haaretz in Tel Aviv — where the 46-year-old moved with her second husband and daughter 11 months ago — Tsabari admits she initially felt uncomfortable with the book being labeled a tell-all. “I never thought I was going to write a memoir, there’s something a little crazy about it,” she says, while acknowledging that these were stories she had to tell.

“I had lived my life making sure I would have them, I was collecting stories,” she notes.

Some of those stories were not just her own. In one of the book’s first essays, “A Simple Girl,” Tsabari describes how marginalized she felt growing up as an orphan in a family of Yemenite descent in 1970s Israel.While many other Mizrahi Jewish writers have written about the racism directed at their families by Ashkenazi Jews in the early years of the state, accounts of the abuse suffered by the Yemenite community — which was historically looked down upon by other Jews — have only begun to emerge in recent decades.


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Review of ‘The Best Place on Earth’

More about Ayelet Tsabari

Press reports on Jewish refugees Westminster debate

Last week’s historic debate at Westminster demanding that the UK recognise Jewish refugees from Arab lands has been reported in the Israeli and Jewish press. The Times of Israel (via JTA) reports (with thanks: Imre):

JTA — A British lawmaker called on the UK government to recognize the plight of Jews forced to flee their homes in Arab countries during the 20th century.

Theresa Villiers, MP

Theresa Villiers, who represents the Conservative Party, said the government should acknowledge Jewish refugees when discussing the Middle East and urged fellow Parliament members to support efforts to preserve Jewish sites in the region, the Jewish Chroniclereported Monday.

 Some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa following the establishment of the State of Israel.

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Bahrain:’Israel is here to stay, we want peace with it’

Bahrain’s foreign minister sees the US-led economic workshop taking place in Manama this week as a possible “gamechanger” tantamount in its scope to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Gulf state’s foreign minister  has said. Report in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

 “We see it as very, very important,” Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop.

Foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa: workshop a possible  ‘gamechanger’

Khalifa also stressed that his country recognizes Israel’s right to exist, knows that it is “there to stay,” and wants peace with it.

He said the US-organized conference here, which is focused on the economic aspects of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, could be like Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, which helped pave the way to the Camp David Accords and the normalizing of relations between Egypt and Israel.

 “As much as Camp David 1 was a major gamechanger, after the visit of President Sadat — if this succeeds, and we build on it, and it attracts attention and momentum, this would be the second gamechanger,” Khalifa said.

In an interview in his suite at Manama’s posh Four Seasons hotel, Khalifa did not commit to normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future, but unequivocally affirmed Israel’s right to exist as a state with secure borders.

While Bahrain might be only Arab state, besides Egypt and Jordan, to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, “we know our brothers in the region do believe in it” as well, he said.
Khalifa pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative as the blueprint for normalizing ties with Israel. Israel’s rejection of the plan is a “missed opportunity,” he lamented, but Jerusalem can always rethink its position.

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Bahrain synagogue comes back to life

The Bahrain synagogue, which is seldom used, came back to life briefly when a shabbat service was held for delegates at the Bahrain peace summit. The service was organised by Times of Israel Raphael Ahren, together with former Ambassador to the US Huda Nonoo. Donald Trump’s Middle East adviser Jason Greenblat, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Marc Schneider, with senior editors and Israeli reporters, made sure there was more than a minyan (quorum of ten men) (with thanks: Lily): 

MANAMA, Bahrain — Businessmen, reporters, five rabbis and a senior White House official held rare morning prayers at the only officially declared synagogue in the Gulf Wednesday, on the edges of a peace conference being held in the tiny gulf kingdom that was once home to a thriving Jewish community.

 At the end of the service, which took place on the sidelines of the US administration’s economic peace workshop held in Bahraini capital Manama, the men, clad in prayer shawls and phylacteries, broke out in song, walking around the bimah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” — the people of Israel live.’

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Jews have not appropriated hummus from Arabs

Contrary to what anti-Zionists would have us believe, Hummus and pita were not Arab foods appropriated by Jews, they were mentioned in the Torah. Writing in the Times of Israel Dani Ishai Behan joins battle in the food arena:  

With the “debate” over Israel’s legitimacy permeating Western campuses and media, Israeli culture has periodically oscillated in and out of the limelight. In particular, disputes over what aspects of Israeli culture – especially Israeli cuisine – are “authentically” Israeli (hint: if it’s Middle Eastern, then it’s “obviously not Israeli”) have become one of the most contentious frontiers of the entire anti-Zionist war on Jewish rights.

 Attendant to the narrative that Zionist returnees in Israel/Palestine are “settler colonists” who “stole” Arab land, anti-Semites similarly charge Israelis and diaspora Jews alike with “stealing” Arab culture in the hope of weaving a convincing tale of Jewish indigeneity out of whole cloth. It is a fictive that aims to dispossess Jews of their own cultural heritage, identity, peoplehood and, eventually, their land.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.