Tag: Sephardim/ Mizrahim

Provocative Hetzroni gets one in the eye for his bigotry

Remember Amir Hetzroni? He is the maverick academic and provocateur who created a national scandal on TV in 2015 when he said his interlocutor of Moroccan-Jewish origin should never have been allowed into Israel. We thought Hetzroni was heading out for a new start in Turkey, but that does not seem to have worked out. Back in Israel, he has not changed his views one iota. For these he was hit in the face during a live broadcast. Report in the Times of Israel: 

Amir Hetzroni at a Mimouna in 2015. . Moroccan hospitality does not seem to have changed his views one iota.

Academic, novelist and provocateur Amir Hetsroni was wounded on Monday when someone threw a chair at him during a live broadcast.

Hetsroni, best known for making offensive comments about practically every sector of Israeli society, was recording a segment in Ashdod for “Online TV,” which streams its content on YouTube and social media.

In video from multiple angles that circulated widely on social media, Hetsroni was hit in the face by a chair thrown at him during the conversation. He began bleeding and appeared to be dizzy and disoriented, clinging to the man seated next to him. Hetsroni later received medical treatment and filed a police complaint about the incident.

On Tuesday, police said they had detained a 16-year-old boy for questioning in connection with the incident.

Hetsroni has a long and colorful history of making wildly racist, sexist and otherwise offensive comments. He regularly rails against the presence of Mizrahi Jews — those from Middle Eastern nations — in Israel, stating that he does not believe they should have been allowed to immigrate.

“I was just attacked during filming in Ashdod by the second generation of cavemen that came [to Israel] without selection due to having a Jewish grandfather,” Hetsroni tweeted after the incident on Monday. “Think about this next time you believe ‘selection’ is a bad word.”

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Thousands of 19 c Jews settled in Palestine from Muslim lands

 Zionism had its  19th century Sephardi precursors but they are overshadowed by Ashkenazi pioneers and almost unknown in Israel today. A new book tries to redress the balance. Review in Tel Aviv Review of Books by Asael Abelman (With thanks: Michelle): 

There is an ongoing dilemma on how to present the history of Zionism in research, culture, and education. Does the classic Zionist narrative marginalize characters, texts, and events that took place in the Sephardi world? Without denying the demographic data of the past, and without diminishing the contributions of the creators of “Ashkenazi” Zionism to the creation of the modern State of Israel, is it not fair to finally tell the stories of those who were left on the sidelines for decades?

The book Kol Hator, Traditional Sephardic Zionism attempts to meet this challenge. Written by Ophir Toubul, a lawyer by training, DJ by passion and head of the organization Tor HaZahav (Golden Age) an NGO forwarding the visions and needs of traditionalist Mizrahi Jews in Israel, this lovely book presents a new perspective on the history of Zionism, by profiling a large variety of characters who were active in the movement from the beginning of the nineteenth century until today, from all over the Sephardi world—from Morocco to France, the Balkan countries, and Iraq.

At the beginning of the book, the reader is informed of a number of facts largely unknown to Israelis today. First, two of the precursors of Zionism, Rabbi Yehuda Bibas and Yehuda Alkalai, responsible for formulating ideas of nationalism in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, were both Sephardi. Second, in the decades leading up to 1881, when the First Aliyah from Eastern Europe began, tens of thousands of Jewish people emigrated to Palestine from Muslim states, in what is called the Mughrabi Aliyah (i.e., those coming from the Maghreb, North Africa). These Jews worked to renew Jewish life throughout the Land of Israel, adopted modern ways of education and living, married Ashkenazi Jews (something almost completely unheard of in the Old Yishuv); they wrote for newspapers, bought land, and created job opportunities for their Jewish peers. Third, these Jews helped to develop modern education in Jerusalem, and also to revive Hebrew. Fourth, the pioneers of the First and Second Aliyot were not only Ashkenazi Jews. For instance, Jews came to Palestine from Yemen at the same time, out of the hope of a national revival and messianic redemption. The stories of many of these people are unknown today, largely overlooked by the Israeli school curriculum. Kol Hator brings back these forgotten elements of the Zionist narrative.

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19th century Sephardi forerunners of Zionism

New Haggadah illustrates Jewish diversity

As Passover approaches, renowned photographer Zion Ozeri has produced a new version of the Haggadah, the story of the Biblical Exodus from Egypt, to grace every Seder table.

The Haggadah in Hebrew and English translation is called Pictures tell: a Passover Haggadah. It is illustrated with Ozeri’s photographs,  taken during his travels across the world.

It’s an old story, told in a novel way. The photographs are of Jews in India, Argentina, Ukraine, Israel and New York, among other places.  What do these Jews have in common? They may speak different languages  but they are all members of the Jewish people united across time and space by an unbreakable bond of custom, culture, tradition and memory.

Award-winning Ozeri has made it his mission to seek out far-flung Jewish communities, some of whom have since disappeared, such as the ancient community of Yemen.

“All pictures relate to the text on the page,” says Ozeri. who was born into a Yemenite family in  Israel and now lives in the US. ” It can easily trigger a conversation around the table. It’s also important for me to show the diversity and mosaic of the Jewish people, dispelling the perception, that all Jews are white European, privileged.  There are lots of insights from renown rabbis and scholars of different backgrounds, including one from the late rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l.”

The text of the Haggadah is interspersed with these insights. There are also questions to stimulate the curiosity of children.

Zion Ozeri’s work has appeared in prestige national publications and has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the world. He has also published The Jewish World Family Haggadah (Simon and Shuster) and a coffee table book, The Jews of Yemen: the last generation (Keter).

Let Mizrahim speak for themselves

In Israel’s early years, Jews from Arab and Muslim countries were viewed from the perspective of a nation-building, modernising project. In the 1970s, academics inserted a post-colonial or neo-Marxist angle, studying Mizrahim as underdogs in a system of Western hegemony that included ‘white’ or Ashkenazi Jews.  But Mizrahim did not only emigrate to Israel, but re-settled in the West, sometimes well before Israel was established. Some emigrated to Israel from the West and vice-versa. Let’s hear the voices of Mizrahim themselves, professor Aviad Moreno tells Sephardi Ideas Monthly. (With thanks: Edna)

Professor Aviad Moreno of Ben-Gurion University

First, because the majority of Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews made Aliya, or migrated, to the State of Israel, historians in the 1950s and 60s approached these events from the perspective of the modernizing, nation-building project of Zionism. From this perspective—this angle—the story to be told was how Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews were progressing from a traditional to a modern form of life, with “modern” understood in terms of secularized, contemporary European society.

This nationalist-modernist approach generated a reaction among historians who viewed Sephardi/Mizrahi history from a “separatist” perspective, decoupling Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewry from Jewish nationhood and viewing it instead from a post-colonial or neo-Marxist angle in which a single riff repeats itself in an endless loop, namely, how Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews were abused and oppressed by forces rooted in the West.

It’s possible to add additional “angles” that, in effect, silenced the voices of Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews themselves. Arab historians viewed Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews as collaborators in an oppressive European colonial project, and entire histories fell under the radar: what about Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews who migrated to the Americas? Or what happens to the stories of Sephardi/Mizrahi communities that migrated piecemeal to Israel and whose history continued as a kind of dialogue between Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews in Israel and their communal brethren still in the country of origin? In telling these stories, the historian who seeks to explore the power of human experience needs to move gracefully between different “centers,” and not to stake his or her flag in one place and view that perspective as sacred ground.

In response to these two dominant “schools”—secular-Zionist and post-colonial—some historians tried to identify what was useful in both while delineating a middle path that recognized the intensely powerful historical reality of Jewish national solidarity, while also acknowledging the ways in which Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews were, in many cases, viewed and treated with condescension, if not contempt.

This revision was indeed helpful, but it still missed what Dr. Moreno and his colleagues are trying to do: let the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews speak for themselves, independent of larger historical framings.

Sephardi Ideas Monthly is delighted to share our interview with Dr. Aviad Moreno and, in so doing, to share with our readers the trailblazing, new perspective that is enriching our understanding of Sephardi/Mizrahi history and with it, Jewish history as a whole.

Sephardi Ideas Monthly: Dr. Moreno, please explain how, in your book, The Long History of the Mizrahim: New Directions in the Study of the Jews of Islamic Lands, you and your colleagues challenge some of the dominant perspectives in the field of Sephardi/Mizrahi Studies, particularly with regard to the way in which we tell the story of Sephardi/Mizrahi migrations in the 20thcentury.

Moreno: If we go back to Israel’s early years, the Jews collectively known as “Oriental Jewry” were viewed from the perspective of a large nation-building, modernizing project. Academic researchers examined edoth, Jewish ethnic groups that, it was assumed, would “progress” and shed their particular characteristics within the national Jewish melting pot. But, broadly speaking, the melting pot was designed to Europeanize everything. Now, despite some obvious differences, this analytical perspective was shared in other immigration-absorbing countries such as Australia and Brazil, where the national modernization projects also assumed European norms.

Beginning in the 1970s, however, academic discourse in the humanities and social sciences started to change. The nationalist framing of ethnic groups was challenged, and multiculturalism and hybrid identities were celebrated. There were a series of “turns,” such as the “cultural turn” followed by the “post-colonial turn,” and as a consequence, by the 1980s Jews from the Arab and Muslim world in Israel—now collectively known as Mizrahim—were being studied as another ethnic minority in post-national and post-colonial contexts and re-framed as underdogs within a global system of “Western hegemony” that included “white” or Ashkenazi Jews.

SIM: So it sounds like either way, the perspectives of the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews themselves were overlooked, and their stories, as they experienced them, weren’t told.

Moreno: Yes, but we’re not there yet, there’s another layer.

To read rest  of Moreno’s interview, click here.

Israel recognises Mizrahi Jewry studies as separate discipline

The study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry is to be recognised as a discipline in its own right, Ha’aretz has announced: this largely symbolic move, based on the 2016 Biton Report, which was never implemented, is to be commended. However, it is not enough to study heritage and culture – this topic must also include the tragic recent history of Mizrahi communities, and must not be used to reinforce a myth of peaceful coexistence. (With thanks: Lily)

Education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton

Israel’s Council for Higher Education recognized the study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry – or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin – as an academic discipline that merits study and research, in a move its supporters say “corrects a historical injustice.”

Seventeen of the council’s 22 members voted in favor of the move on Tuesday, according to sources, following a heated debate over the measure, seen as part of a broader inclusivity push in Israeli education and academia.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who chairs the council, said “the human mosaic that makes up Israeli society must also be expressed in curricula and fields of knowledge and research.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David, of the “Masorti Union” of mostly Mizrahi Jewish communities, said the decision “far exceeds the academic field,” and is “an important milestone in our ability to tell a new story throughout all of Israeli society.”

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews make up roughly half of Israel’s Jewish population, but the community was long impoverished and faced discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews – those of European heritage – who traditionally dominated government, religious institutions and academia.

Council members, including Prof. Haviva Pedaya of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, were lobbying to recognize the study of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry as an independent academic discipline.

Four years ago, Prof. Pedaya was appointed to lead an internal panel within the council to examine the possibility of “research and instruction on the heritage and culture of Sephradi and Mizrahi Jewry” at the country’s universities and colleges.

In response to opposition to legitimizing the subject as an academic discipline, several supporters of the initiative spoke about it as correcting a historical injustice.

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