Loolwa Khazzoom was one of the earliest people to draw attention to the existence of Mizrahim and the marginalisation of their stories by the ‘Ashkenormative’ US diaspora. Now her groundbreaking anthology of 2003, ‘The Flying Camel’ , has been republished. Haaretz reports:
In the early 1990s, long before identity politics permeated the non-academic mainstream, before intersectionality raced to the forefront of every cause and the Middle East became trendy, Loolwa Khazzoom was trying to get people to notice that she – and others like her – existed.
The daughter of an Iraqi-Jewish father and a Jew-by-choice mother from Illinois who fully embraced her husband’s culture, Khazzoom’s heritage remains “part of the fabric of who I am,” she told Haaretz by phone from her home in Seattle. But growing up in Montreal and California, the basic elements of her identity kept her from finding a true home outside the home.
“I felt like a pinball in a pinball machine,“ Khazzoom says. She was taunted by classmates and staff alike at her Jewish day school in California for her Middle Eastern background and liturgical traditions. At her Orthodox Sephardi synagogue, she was silenced and shunted aside as a woman; her passion for the religion and its traditions and her willingness to sing aloud were met with apathy and annoyance. And in public school, she was the target of antisemitic abuse.
A pivotal moment occurred in 1990, during her senior year at Barnard College, when the school’s Jewish organization held a “kvetching session” on problems in the institution’s Jewish life. Khazzoom didn’t hold back.
Everything from the name of the “kvetching” event to the college’s Shabbat and holiday services “was super Ashkenazi,” she recalls. She suggested doing at least one Shabbat prayer in the tradition of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa – and was silenced once again.