JIMENA, the California-based organisation representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, has launched Journey to the Mizrah, a curriculum and website designed to educate middle and high school students in Sephardic Studies.
To date, JIMENA says, the study of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish heritage, Jewish multiculturalism, and the ethnic diversity of the Jewish people has not been integrated as a regular component of Jewish education in the USA. Despite the fact that over 50% of Israeli Jews and an estimated 20% of American Jews identify as Mizrahi and Sephardic, most North American Jewish educators are unprepared to teach these subjects, it claims.
Anecdotally, JIMENA believes that one in four students at the Jewish Community High School of the San Francisco Bay identifies as Sephardic through a parent or grandparent. Sephardic students are becoming an increasing majority at Jewish Day Schools in Los Angeles and New York.
The curriculum was created for formal and informal Jewish education institutions using ‘traditional Sephardic pedagogy’. Designed and written for middle schools, but easily adapted for high schools, the Journey to the Mizrah curriculum includes twelve lesson plans that incorporate text study, discussion and immersive Sephardic and Mizrahi activities such as Mimouna, Piyutim, Henna, and storytelling.
Celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the great aliya (immigration) of Moroccan Jewry to Israel are being planned all over the country. The Jerusalem Post gives a useful overview of the events leading to the exodus: (with thanks: Michelle)
The story of Moroccan Jewry’s immigration to Israel is not simple, beginning many years before the State of Israel was established.
To mark their difficult journey home, as well as the major contributions
Moroccan Jewry has made to Israeli society, the World Federation of
Moroccan Jewry has organized dozens of events in the forthcoming months
for the approximately one million Israeli Jews who are Moroccan or of
Toward the end of the rule of the Ottoman
Empire, and prior to the signing of the Fez Treaty in 1912 that entailed
French protection of Moroccan Jews, there was a mass immigration of
Jews from large cities – including Fez, Rabat and Marrakech – to the
smaller towns and villages surrounding the cities.
However, the decline in the financial circumstances, overcrowding, and
the need to pray in secret to avoid persecution by locals caused some
young families to immigrate to Israel. Between 1908 and 1918, some 80
families moved to Tiberias and Jerusalem.
In the years prior to the Holocaust, Moroccan Jews were encouraged to
enroll their children in French schools. The community was also prompted
to receive a French education and integrate into French culture, as
French influence in Morocco began to grow in the early part of the 20th
But as the Vichy regime came to power in 1940 andthe Holocaust began, the situation for Moroccan Jewry began to change.
The David Amar Moroccan Jewish Heritage Center, Jerusalem
Although King Mohammed V is credited with blocking efforts by Vichy
officials to impose anti-Jewish legislation upon Morocco and deport the
country’s 250,000 Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps in
Europe, partial Nazi race measures were put in place in Morocco despite
Vichy officials also forced Mohammed to
sign two decrees, which barred Jews from entering certain schools or
obtaining certain positions.
Following the end of World War II
and the establishment of the State of Israel, Moroccan Jews were
encouraged to move to Israel by Zionist groups and organizations.
French rule remaining over Morocco, Jews were allowed to immigrate
legally, and many young Moroccan Jews left to help fight during the War
of Independence. Others left as they also felt mistreated by the French
With the establishment of the State and the
country’s victory over several Arab nations, antisemitism skyrocketed.
The Moroccan Nationalist Movement incited hatred against the Jews, and
on June 7, 1948, 44 Jews were massacred in pogroms across the country.
encouraged further immigration to Israel – in the five years following
Israel’s independence, around 30,000 Jews made aliyah, and the numbers
increased in subsequent years.
By 1954, when it became clear that
France was advancing its plan to grant Morocco independence and pogroms
and sporadic attacks against Jews started to increase, there was a
massive wave of immigration to Israel.
As their situation
deteriorated, more and more Jews began to leave. Following Morocco’s
independence in 1956 and its joining the Arab League in 1958,
immigration to Israel and Zionism were banned.
Although Jews had
full rights as citizens following Morocco’s independence, they were
still treated with disdain and subjected to antisemitism.
as one of the most tragic incidents to have happened to Moroccan Jews
trying to escape persecution is that of the Egoz, which was a ship
smuggling 43 Jewish Moroccans as well as an Israeli representative,
Chaim Tzarfati. During the night between January 10 and 11, it sank.
Between 1948 and 1955 around 70,000 Jews left Morocco, and another 60,000 Jews left Morocco from 1955 to 1961.
THE ascension of Hassan II to the throne in 1961, an agreement was made
that he would accept a large per-capita bounty from the international
Jewish community for each Jew who emigrated from Morocco, and under this
agreement Jews were allowed the freedom to leave. By the eve of the Six
Day War, some 120,000 emigrated during this six-year period alone.
According to the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, over 300,000 Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel since the 1960s.
“Today, before the Federation’s figures, more than one million
immigrants [and their descendants] from Morocco live in Israel, making
them the second-largest community after immigration from the
Commonwealth,” it explained. “On Sunday, there will be a second salute
on the eve marking the first series of events, which commemorates the
60th anniversary of the mass immigration from Morocco.”
Update (with thanks: Lily):According to MEMRI, Ahmed Wihmane, the President of the Moroccan Observatory against Normalization with Israel, said that he salutes the Moroccan authorities for destroying the shameful “so-called Holocaust memorial.” However, he criticized the government for, in its idleness, having allowed the building to be erected in the first place, particularly since, according to Wihmane, the owner of the project is a homosexual Freemason with Zionist ideologies. Wihmane compared the Moroccan government’s inaction to previous inaction he claimed took place regarding firearms training camps in Morocco that had been under the supervision of “generals and rabbis from the Israeli War Forces” and that had the purpose of establishing a “second Israel” in Morocco.
It seems that Moroccco is not ready for a Shoah memorial, despite its strategy to memorialise its Jewish heritage. Moroccan Authorities demolished a Holocaust memorial on Monday that was being built by German NGO PixelHelper in Ait Faska, southeast of Marrakesh on the grounds that it did not have the necessary building permits. This comes less than a week after The Jerusalem Post revealed that the Holocaust memorial was in the works. (With thanks: Lily; Imre)
Bulldozers had moved in to destroy the Memorial (Photo: O Bienkowski)
“We thought that there was acceptance of Jewish society in Morocco but it’s not [the case],” (Oliver Bienkowski, founder of PixelHelper) told the Post. “We get a lot of antisemitic and anti LGBTQ+ messages.”
Late on Monday, Moroccan Authorities denied in a press statement that the memorial was being built, adding that such claims were “unfounded.”
For the first time in North Africa, a Holocaust memorial (Shoah) honoring the millions of Jews killed during the Second World War will be built by the German non-profit organization PixelHelper.
After the one in South Africa, this second memorial on the continental level will be built 26 kilometers from the city of Marrakech, on the road that leads to Ouarzazate, in the small town of Aït Faska.
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post, Oliver Bienkowski, founder of PixelHelper and manager of the memorial in Morocco, said the project aims to “show Moroccans, especially students, and Jews in Israel the horror of the Holocaust”, adding that the memorial will be composed of more than 10,000 blocks of stone that visitors can browse. A call for donations was launched to fund part of the project.
The monument will also dedicate a portion to homosexual victims of the Holocaust. “In the middle of the monument, there will be rainbow-colored blocks for LGBTQ + people who have died in concentration camps,” Oliver Bienkowski said, adding that the project will be completed at the festival of Hanukkah in late December.
The Memorial was to include coloured blocks to remember the homosexuals who perished in the Nazi camps
Anyone who keeps abreast of the growing academic field of Mizrahi/Sephardic studies cannot help noticing that the vast majority of papers focus on the purported “discrimination” or “racism” of the Ashkenazi establishment. The expression ‘Arab Jew’ is widely used too, but is rejected by Jews born in Arab countries themselves, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News:
The 650,000 Jews who overwhelmed Israel in its early years were sent to languish in tent camps or deliberately consigned to the country’s periphery – development towns in the far north or south of the country with little employment and prospects, their culture disparaged as ‘primitive’.
Typical is this paper by one Sarah Louden, Israeli Nationalism: the Constructs of Zionism and its Effect on Inter-Jewish Racism, Politics, and Radical Discourse. It has 455 views, more than any other paper of its genre. It pulls no punches in attacking the ‘racism’ of Zionism. But its sources are drawn almost entirely from Mizrahi anti-Zionists like Ella Shohat.
Shohat, a professor at New York university, made her name by applying Edward Said’s theory of ‘Orientalism’ to Israel, claiming that both the Mizrahim and the Arabs are victims of the West (Ashkenazim). Mizrahi Jews and Arabs are assumed to have more in common with each other that Jews from the East have with Jews from the West. The former, they contend, were ‘torn away’ from their comfortable ‘Arab’ environment by Zionism and colonialism.
These academics widely assume that the
Mizrahim support the Likud and rightwing parties to
‘get their own back’ on the Labour-dominated Ashkenazi establishment. According to Sarah Louden, “Mizrahim support the rightwing in Israeli politics as a means of affection and maltreatment by the ruling left-wing Ashkenazi elite, and then set out to promote their own cultural and ideological thoughts.”
But Louden and those like her hardly mention, or downplay, the elephant in the room – the subliminal memory of Arab and Muslim persecution experienced by parents and grandparents driven from the Arab world. Is is not plausible that Mizrahi Jews view the rocket attacks and bombings afflicting Israel as just the latest chapter in a long history of Arab and Muslim antisemitism? Do they vote Likud because they believe that only the right can deliver the necessary tough response?
Western academics almost invariably use the expression ‘Arab Jew’. The term figures in the title of a book by Professor Sasson Somekh – The Last Arab Jew.
Professor Sasson Somekh died last week. Far left media sites like +972 proceeded to mourn him as an ‘Arab Jew’.
Born in Baghdad in 1933, Somekh (pictured) published two autobiographies, the first “Baghdad, Yesterday: The
Making of an Arab Jew,” about his life in Iraq and the second, “Life
After Baghdad: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew in Israel.”
Somekh was the guru of Arabic Literature studies at Tel Aviv University and spent two years in Cairo where he became a close a friend of the Egyptian Nobel prizewinning author Naguib Mahfouz, whose work he claims to have introduced to a wider audience.
Some of Somekh’s disciples in the Arabic Literature department of Tel Aviv university were anti-Zionists in the Shohat mould. But Somekh never thought of himself as an Arab Jew in their terms.
He told Almog Behar, one of his former students: ” The tendency among leading Mizrahi intellectuals of the younger
generation to speak of themselves as Arab Jews is first and foremost a
political position, that is, their desire to protest sharply against the
sense of discrimination that they feel has been directed at Mizrahim.
They are, in fact, seeking to highlight their reluctance to be part of
the Zionist existence of the state. I do not have a problem with these
positions, but for me this is not how the Arab-Jewish identity is
For Somekh, Arab Jew is a “cultural definition of a Jew who speaks
Arabic and grew up in a Muslim environment.” He wanted to
emphasize that “his identity stemmed from his point of view as a person who
grew up in an Arab culture and continues to engage with that culture.”
Iraq was one of the few Arab countries where Jews took a leading role in the Arabic cultural and literary renaissance of the 1920s and 30s. “I am the last Arab Jew,” Somekh said. “That is why I wrote Baghdad, Yesterday: to
document the life of a Jewish Arab child. Anyone who defines himself as
an Arab Jew to attack others but who does not speak Arabic… does not
count as such. While I do not define myself as a Zionist, if being
Zionist means all Jews should come here, I am an Israeli patriot.”
In other words, Somekh saw himself as being an Israeli Jew of Arab culture, not of Arab ethnicity. Another professor of Iraqi origin, Reuven Snir of Haifa University, concurred: Jews who wrote literary works in Arabic in the early twentieth century felt no need to declare themselves as Arabs.
A conference held some 10 years ago among Iraqi Jews resoundingly rejected the expression ‘Arab Jew’ as a badge of identity. The vast majority of Jews from the Arab world have not historically identified as Arabs – in fact many would be offended to be so labelled.
But post- and anti- Zionists academics continue to turn a deaf ear to what most Jews raised Arab countries themselves say and feel, as long as ‘discrimination’ against Mizrahim can serve as a useful stick to bash Zionism.
This is the little-known story of Heba Selim, an Egyptian woman who spied for Israel. Heba was recruited into the Mossad while a financially-strapped student in Paris. Later she passed on military secrets through her husband Farouk Abdul Hamid el-Feki, which enabled Israel to bomb targets in Egypt with pinpoint accuracy at the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Both Heba and Farouk were later executed. A film was made in 1978 about her. Egyptian Streets has the story:
If one were to list the most influential and important scenes in the history of Egyptian cinema, a strong contender would have to be the ending of the 1978 movie Climbing to the Bottom (El Soud Ela Al Hawia). Actress Madiha Kamel plays the character of Egyptian spy Heba Selim, or ‘Abla’ in the film, who was on a plane approaching Cairo airport after her arrest. Next to her was an intelligence officer, who pointed at the pyramids and the Nile and said the famous line, “and this is Egypt, Abla.”
Heba (Abla) Selim and her husbank Farouk el-Feki
At a time when Egyptian President Sadat was planning his next step for peace with Israel as part of the Camp David Accords, young Heba Selim was in the shadows working with the Mossad to seduce an Egyptian army officer and gather confidential information to help Israel defeat Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.
In her own words, she reckoned that she was also working for peace, telling General Rifaat Osman Gabriel in her last days, “I am not a spy, but I work in order to preserve the human race from destruction.”
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