May 8, 2013 by Robbie Gringras
There is a terribly ugly phrase here that is used whenever someone (usually Ashkenazi) doesn’t want someone (usually Mizrachi) to talk about anti-Mizrachi racism in Israel. The whistle-blower, the moaner, the inciter is accused of “letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle”. That is the literary translation, though a more literal translation would refer to the escape of the ethnic “demon”.
It’s a shocking phrase, which is used by the most seemingly enlightened of public figures, and its connotations are so widely accepted that it is gradually falling into cliché. Historically, anyone who has tried to call the Ashkenazi establishment on its appalling treatment of Mizrachi Jews has been accused of rabble-rousing, of irresponsibly inciting uncontrollable violence on the streets. Though in many ways the Israeli phrase is more insulting, suspecting the Mizrachi of uncontrollable destructive urges, literally demonizing Mizrachim who protest at their treatment.
It is heart-breaking to realize that this is a prejudice that dare not speak its name while its effects are seen everywhere. In academia, the justice system, government, finance, Mizrachim are rarely seen, despite their making up over 50% of the Jewish population of Israel. Only in the percentages of those under the poverty line, those with poor academic results, and those who populate the prisons do Mizrachim score highly.
And yet to point out this state of affairs is so frowned upon it is like pulling out a rotting carcass in the middle of a dinner party. Not only does it stink, but it is a spiteful act, designed only to spoil the party.
It is perhaps only to be expected that the latest example of this phenomenon is connected to money. New shekel notes are being designed and printed with the images of famous Israeli role models. They are all heroes of the Ashkenazi establishment. None are Mizrachim. What is upsetting is not only the decision of the Finance folks, but also the fact that the media has no patience for anyone pointing out these hurtful and unnecessary choices. Mocking memes are rolled out, complaints are cut off mid-sentence, and damage is denied.
For many years I had accepted the standard definition and excuse for the problem. Mizrachim – Moroccans in particular – were victims of an insensitive absorption policy in the early years of the state that led to them being humiliated, poorly housed, and culturally deracinated by the host Israelis of the early 50s.
How could this have happened? How could Jews have treated their fellow Jews in such a way? I had always given much weight to the mainstream narrative that pointed out how Ashkenazi Israelis of the 50s were so numbed by the horrors of the holocaust and the ravages of the Israeli War of Independence, they simply did not have the emotional energy to empathize with someone who has “only” lost their belongings, language, and self-respect. “It is true,” they sigh, “that Mizrachi children were told to Hebraicise their names and forget their culture, but a new united nation needed to be forged. Don’t forget, even Yiddish was banned back then.”
And then a few months ago singer-songwriter Ehud Banai broke my heart. He recently brought out a collection of his memoirs called This is The Place, and in it he tells the story of the Kinneret Yemenites. As is his style and temperament, the story is told almost as a tangent, gently recalled and just as gently acknowledged. But still, a disturbed character in Banai’s book tells of a devout Yemeni community living on the banks of the Kinneret, at the same time as the Degania Group was busy weaving legends out of pioneering and working the land and inventing Kibbutz for the world.
The white European chalutzim did not take kindly to the presence of these Yemenites. They did not like their religious devotion, and had no respect for their work (back then it was simply accepted that Yemeni laborers were paid half what European laborers were paid). When Kibbutz Degania moved to its permanent dwellings in 1930, it desired the land on which the Yemeni community was living. And so the Yemenites were simply moved out. Expelled. Evicted. And Kibbutz Degania took their land.
How can I count the ways this breaks my heart?
First, I fell in love with Israel and Zionism through the stories of these very chalutzim pioneers. These foundation stories of Israel, shared around the camp-fire, of chalutzim and chalutzot, turned my relationship with Israel into a romance. The “inverted pyramid”, the ill-fitting clothes, the late-night discussions – I fell in love with it all.
We didn’t avoid questions about the status of women in the early kibbutz, nor did we duck issues of attitudes to local Arabs (remember that heroic and horrific story of A.D. Gordon uprooting and replanting a forest planted with Arab labor?) – but internal racism? Never. Who even knew that there were other Jewish communities by the Kinneret who hadn’t read Borochov and who wore kippot?
Second, very few people in Israel know about this story even now. Feminist reappraisals of Zionist history abound, and “New Historians” have raked over Israel’s treatment of Arabs, but assessments of this European Zionism’s attitudes to the Jews from Arab lands have never been received with the same respect. To this day the official history text book of Israel – a massive 500-odd page tome published by the Education Ministry – has all of four pages chronicling the aliya of Arab Jews (Ethiopians remind me it is still better than the one paragraph awarded to the story of Ethiopian aliya!). When called on this in a recent meeting between the Education Minister and Mizrachi activists, the editors proudly pointed out that the 4-page Mizrachi problem has been solved: The new edition will have seven pages.
Is it any wonder the racism continues? Is it any wonder the easiest way to create a funny character on TV is to give him or her a Mizrachi accent?
And if Israelis hardly teach themselves about the Mizrachi narrative, how can we Israel educators bring it up with our Diaspora-based students? Will they even care?
Finally the story of the Yemenite pioneers breaks my heart because this discriminatory treatment of Mizrachim was common practice many years before the Holocaust. These Yemenites were not thrown off their land by shell-shocked survivors of the Nazis: They were shooed away by bright-eyed ideologues who didn’t even see them.
I finally got it. There was no excuse for the early treatment of Mizrachim in Israel. It wasn’t an unfortunate by-product of post-Holocaust trauma. It was racism. That’s all. Plain racism.
And there is never a good time to talk about it. When elections loom, to bring up this racism is to make political capital (and indeed the Shas party does in my opinion work to exploit rather than heal the hurt). When elections are over, to point out the shockingly low number of Mizrachim in the government and leading parties, is to get in the way of kicking the Haredim. When the racist jokes are repeated, one must always keep one’s sense of humor. And when the only remaining symbols of value in this country – the shekels – are reprinted without a Mizrachi face – just stick it on your forehead, you monkey.
March 20, 2013 by Makom
In honor of the visit of President Obama to Israel, we would like to reproduce – in all good humor and warmth – a translation of the cartooning lesson Shay Charka gave us back in 2010.
We present Shay Charka’s recipe for drawing President Barack Obama…
February 18, 2013 by Makom
Ruth Calderon’s maiden speech in the Knesset made waves. A woman stood at the podium of Israel’s parliament, and taught Talmud…
What do you think?
We worked with the translation of Elli Fischer, from The Jewish Week.
February 12, 2013 by Makom
Our Artist-in-Residence, Robbie Gringras gave a talk for JDOV at Limmud UK conference in December. In this visual, physical, and surprising presentation he offers a vision for maintaining the complexity of differing voices in Israel.
February 12, 2013 by Makom
The Israeli elections are not yet over.
After the public has cast its vote, the Prime Minister-designate must form a coalition. This process, which can take a month and sometimes longer, tends to be viewed with great distaste by public and politicians alike.
Yitzhak Rabin z”l coined the word “Go’alitzia”, which forever blended the Hebrew for coalition, together with the Hebrew for “disgust”.
Yet it is clear now more than ever that a coalition must be built out of parties who chose to define themselves as different one from the other. How to create a unity out of difference must inevitably require compromises.
Can we ever reach our peace with compromise? Is there a moral and trustworthy way of reaching a compromise?
We believe that Avishai Margalit’s book “On Compromise and Rotten Compromises” offers a fascinating way to begin to think about coalitions, and many other issues in Israel whose solution will require engagement with compromise.
December 6, 2012 by Makom
First appeared in Times of Israel
As the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza maintains its tenuous hold and life in Israel returns to relative calm, we continue to mourn the human casualties of this latest conflagration. But there is another, less discussed casualty of the hostilities, not one suffered by Israelis or Palestinians, but by American Jewish education.
The damage was inflicted in heated battles like the Gordis-Brous controversy that raged in Jewish newspapers and social media outlets, as public intellectuals and private citizens jumped to condemn the positions other Jews expressed about Israel. Caught in this unfriendly verbal crossfire were Jewish educators and their students across the United States.
The adage, “anyone to my right is a lunatic and anyone to my left a heretic” has taken on new venom, and the poison is afflicting Jewish teachers and students.In print and online, Jews on the left have been excoriated as traitors or self-hating Jews, while Jews on the right have been castigated as racists or immune to the suffering of others.
It has not taken long for this kind of toxic language to have a stifling effect in Jewish classrooms, where teachers and students are increasingly wary of speaking about Israel lest they find themselves the brunt of such criticism.
To illustrate, I share with you three true anecdotes about the Jewish educational settings I encounter as a teacher educator and scholar of Israel education.
As rockets were raining down upon Israel, a talented religious school teacher knew she wanted to speak with her students about the situation, and yet she worried about the turn the conversation might take. “When talking about Israel,” she explained to me, “I no longer feel comfortable being the only adult in the room.”
Like sex education teachers who know it is always safer to have another adult witness lest conversations with students be misconstrued, Jewish educators are now carefully monitoring their words about Israel lest they be accused of betraying Israel or Jewish values.
These fears carry a steep price.
When this teacher’s colleague was unable to join her in facilitating a conversation about Israel, she admitted, “I found myself with very little to say when faced with the opportunity to have a class dedicated to talking about Israel.” And so, she continued with her regularly scheduled curriculum and her students did not discuss Israel at all.
Classrooms of students are not even talking about Israel because their teachers are hesitant to enter the fray of a public discourse that is so vitriolic. Educators in a variety of settings are beginning to self-censor to avoid being criticized for their beliefs about Israel.
A Jewish Studies professor recently shared her fears about expressing her opinion about Israel in public forums. “I’m scared of being effectively blacklisted,” she wrote. As a scholar and expert about Jewish topics unrelated to Israel, she is asked to speak at synagogues and organizations of all denominations and political orientations. If she makes public comments about Israel, she worries, “I’m afraid that I’ll be passed over in favor of other speakers.” And so she remains silent.
Any market-place of ideas benefits from a variety of opinions, and we should be encouraging diverse voices, especially among those who teach our youth. But recent public discourse has made no room for civil disagreement, causing skilled Jewish professionals and intellectual powerhouses to shutter their windows.
Perhaps most troubling of all is the story of Dina, a high school junior at a Jewish day school. Born in Israel and raised in the U.S., Dina refuses to even mention the word Israel. This is because, as Dina explained, “Israel is such a touchy issue in our school.” Dina fears being ostracized by peers who disagree with her opinions about Israel. “I know this is terrible,” she admitted, “but I try to avoid conversations about Israel with other people in the school.” She, and classmates of hers who identify with both the right and the left, whisper in hushed voices to trusted adults, but do not speak with one another about Israel out of concern for the social stigma that would come from openly stating their positions.
Many of today’s American Jewish youth and, increasingly, the educators who are most qualified to teach them about Israel, are opting out of the conversation.
This new reality should give pause to all those who care about the State of Israel and the future of its relationship with American Jews. For today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders, and if they are unwilling to discuss Israel – or unable to because those tasked with educating them have avoided the topic – then there can be no lasting relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Creating a more civil discourse among Jewish adults would go a long way towards preventing further collateral damage.
Dr Sivan Zakai is Director of Research & Teacher Education at the Graduate Center for Education at American Jewish University.
November 20, 2012 by Makom
David Bryfman is the Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at the Jewish Education Project
If you’re in a position of Jewish educational leadership, and it really doesn’t matter which one, invariably in the last week you have been asked by some of your educators about how they should be teaching about the current situation in Israel.
Unfortunately many of us have been in this situation before, and regretfully many of us will be there again. As in the past many organizations will create resource guides, curriculum and send out talking points.
Since Israel’s last “war” social media has taken off and so people’s Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds will also be filled with many links, downloads and sound bites. With all due respect to these organizations (some of which I acknowledge and link to below) I want to humbly suggest that all of these resources are actually of secondary importance and perhaps even irrelevant.
There is however one conversation that must be have and from experience we all know is in most cases completely neglected.
This essential conversation doesn’t take place in a classroom, and nor does it involve any students/campers/youth movement participants.
It is the conversation that you, the principal, education director, rabbi, executive director, camp director, president, chairperson, can and should be convening. It is the conversation that we most commonly avoid because we are sometimes under the misguided opinion that when it comes to education people’s personal opinions don’t actually matter.
The essential conversation only has 1-2 trigger questions.
What is your personal relationship to Israel?
How are you feeling about the current situation in Israel?
This conversation must be had (ideally in person, but also possible on the phone or on a webinar) because without it, anecdotal evidence has shown us time and time again, that nothing else matters.
Put a resource guide in the hands of an educator who has not had a chance to process and reflect about their own relationship with Israel is asking someone to distance themselves and to “read the script” at a time when learners most need authenticity and humanity.
Maybe after the personal processing is complete (or at least started) educators will feel more empowered to go and research about the current situation so that they don’t walk into a room full of learners ill-prepared.
But again, even in a moment of reacting to these current events, think carefully about what it is that you want your students to walk away with. Believe me, those that are so inclined to become political, be advocates, attend rallies, will undoubtedly find a way to do so. If you’re a Jewish educator all of these tactics should be secondary. Your primary responsibility is to allow your learners to navigate their own personal journeys through their individuals challenges and struggles.
These two questions might be ones that your educators want to ask their learners, but only after the educators themselves have had their own chance to dialogue and share.
No one is saying that this is simple. Yes, you might uncover some latent radical in your midst. You might discover tensions in your team that you never knew existed. You might have people raise their voices or shed a tear. And you might even need to give someone a hug, or ask to continue the conversation with them after this structured conversation.
If you’ve had an educator ask you for resources about how to handle the current situation in Israel, then this is the conversation that you need to convene. If none of your educators have asked you for these resources, then you have an even bigger problem, but luckily one that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, in how to make Israel central to every Jewish educational process that you are engaged in.
To be a (Jewish) educator is to be human. It is to recognize that conflict is fundamentally not about facts or maps, or statuses or tweets. Conflict is raw and it is full of emotion.
Unless we provide opportunities for Jewish educators to ask these two questions right now, then I’m afraid nothing else matters.
First appeared at www.bryfy.net
November 20, 2012 by Sarah Mali
Sarah Mali writes to her friends in Toronto’s Jewish Community, after having recently returned to Israel following several years as their Shlicha (Jewish Agency Emissary).
“Wear pretty pajamas for bed just in case something happens and you need to leave the house in-flight.”
This was the advice my aesthetically-conscious nana (bubbie) gave me when I was a little girl living in North-West London. I had always giggled when she told me this knowing it was silliness but not really sure why.
Last night when my children asked how to prepare for another siren I recalled this advice to them hoping they would giggle like I once had.
It is hard to imagine a military siren in Jerusalem especially since only a few minutes earlier the shrill shofar-sounding call for Shabbat had been heard above the city. During dinner my theologically sensitive 8 year old invoked the phrase from Grace After Meals on Shabbat and asked defiantly: but we say that God looks after us particularly on Shabbat? We praised her for her Talmudic thinking but realized that the question hadn’t really been directed at us to answer…
Here is the most absurdly-sounding thing of all: we Jerusalemites have it easy: we have 1minute 45 seconds to get to a place of safety – that is compared to Ashdod (40 seconds) or Sderot (15 seconds) under a constant barrage of rockets. But it isn’t the drama of the 15 seconds itself – it is what these 15 seconds do to the space in time that lies between them.
To me, that has been the strategic sensitivity behind Toronto Jewish Federation’s continuous funding of Sderot despite intermittent periods of quiet.
Let me illustrate this: My sister-in-law lives with her husband and four little children next to Ashdod. Her oldest is the same age as my 8 year old and suffers from a severe genetic disorder; she cannot eat properly, talk or walk. This past summer when my husband took the kids for a visit he had his first encounter with her existential situation. Behind her in his car with our kids, as the siren went off he saw my sister-in-law slam on the breaks, stop her car and begin to try and get her children out. She quite literally threw her little baby at a passer-by who was just about to turn around himself and run for cover and then proceeded to untie her four year old and then her 6 year old. Then she reached for her beautiful first born daughter and tried to release her from her seat at the back of a specially designed van and lug her out of the back towards safety.
The siren by this time had long since passed – danger had subsided, everyone could continue as normal.
The problem is that there is no ‘normal’ for my sister-in-law: she lives with the reality that she won’t make it.
That is worth repeating: My sister-in-law knows that 40 seconds by herself is simply not enough to save her family.
And therein lies the heartbreak.
In synagogue this morning, with many men missing as they had been called for reserve duty, Israeli cynicism prevailed. Friends commented to me with a smile; ‘welcome back to Israel.’ We all muttered something like ‘yehiye beseder’ (all will be ok) and continued on.
Eric Yoffie wrote beautifully in Ha’aretz, that Israel was established to protect our children.
The truth is that Jewish sovereignty is about that and more: it is about the two sirens getting mixed up in my mind, about the cell phones and army uniforms in shul, about the question of a child wondering about Divine justice in a place she regards as home and, maybe most significantly, the fact that I am writing this to you straight after Shabbat out of dual feelings that I need to tell you and I need you to hear.
This for me is Zionism and this is why I am here.
Shavua tov from Jerusalem, Sarah
October 18, 2012 by Jacqueline Nicholls
it is not a good time to be a jewish woman.
it should be. but it isn’t.
in israel, Anat Hoffman and others are intimidated and arrested at the Kotel. they were singing, saying the shema, and wearing tallitot. Disturbing the peace. They were raising their voices and making their presence felt. Which doesn’t go down too well with the black-hatted bully-boys who are claiming ownership over the public spaces in Israel.
And here in the UK, in the inside closed world of haredim, it appears that one woman (or possibly more) have been taken advantage of and coerced into improper sexual activities. their leaders have successfully nurtured a culture of mistrust of the outsiders, so they won’t report it, and the cover-ups and gossip thrives. and while we all speculate who the rabbis are. who knew what and why they aren’t saying. or why they are saying some things and not others, and the power games between the various factions continue. Amongst all of that are women who are being intimidated into silence. To Full Post
October 18, 2012 by Anton Goodman
Izhar Ashdot is an Israeli rock legend, a founding member of Tislam, the most successful Israeli band of all time, and a solo performer in his own right. He has long been a left-wing activist and often performs at Meretz (left-wing social democratic political party) rallies.
Generally an adored musician, Ashdot has found himself in the center of a controversy that is rocking Israeli society in a different way than he is used to. This week the Director of Galatz גל”צ, one of the two nationwide radio stations operated by the IDF, ruled that Ashdot’s latest song עניין של הרגל “A Matter of Habit” could not be performed or played on the station.
While Galatz is an army radio station run by the Ministry of Defense, this has not stopped it being a voice of free expression and a lynchpin in the cultural development of the State of Israel. For Galatz to censor or ban a song is almost unheard of. And banning an Izhar Ashdot song… unthinkable.
I had already heard rumors on the blogosphere as to the problematic nature of the song including a couple of open letters from would-be politicians/minor celebrities questioning Ashdot’s thinking; but until Galatz banned the song I hadn’t taken the time to listen to it.
With a fellow Israeli in my office I pulled the song up on YouTube and we watched the official music video.
There is no doubt this is a painful song which sets its sights on Israeli society and in particular the Army for creating a culture of fear and hatred which make killing “a matter of habit”. This exaggerated and one-sided criticism tempers a deeper message in the song, as Ashdot really seems to be saying that we have backed ourselves into a corner, convinced ourselves that it is us against the World and placed our existential threats on a pedestal that has become identity defining.
Ashdot claimed in an interview that, “A song becomes political when it is treated in that way.” But some might argue that a song becomes political when it contains the line, “Patrolling all night in the Kasbah of Shechem. Hey what here is ours and what is yours?”
We have a habit in Israel of making valid points in such strong words, sometimes even extremist, that the original message is lost. (As an aside, in America I have found the exact opposite: valid points made in such weak, consensual language that I can no longer identify the original message.) Peace Now is against Settling the West Bank, a legitimate opinion, yet they often portray Settlers as the enemy and use overly painful terms in describing their opponents.
Likud often questions the validity of biased human rights organizations run by Israelis who are funded by foreign governments, again a legitimate opinion, but by framing these organizations as traitors, the argument loses its own validity. Ashdot has fallen in this trap.
He ends the song with the words, “To learn how to love, is a matter of delicacy”, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t heeded his own advice. For, with all the delicacy of a hammer Ashdot has saddened and angered mainstream Israel with an apparent attack on the most beloved institution (the IDF), when he could have artistically side-stepped naming names and had a deeper effect. We can’t really blame him, it’s all a matter of habit.