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Mizrachi Identity

IDENTITY AND IDENTIFICATION

The ethnic group to which any of us belongs is one of a whole host of identities we have, and we have the indisputable right to be proud of it.

The Mizrachi culture is varied and offers an abundance of wisdom and humanism-tolerance, gentleness, flexibility, creativity, persistence, decisiveness, courage, and power are only part of the bounty.

However, sometimes the wonderful background from which we emerged becomes blurry and pale, and we are left with a difficulty in identifying as Mizrachim. There are different levels and ways of identifying: by using first and last names that preserve the Mizrachi identity and origins in contrast with using Israeli names, by mentioning the specific country our family came from (Bulgaria, Morocco, Iran, Yemen, etc. . . . in contrast with general Mizrachi origin), by sharing stories of our families' homes, etc.

The difficulty in sharing and telling comes from the oppression. As long as the Mizrachi culture is perceived as less valuable, of less quality, there exists an apprehension to tell about dear and beloved things lest they are perceived as negative and not worthy. An example of this happened at our last workshop. One of the participants told us that every weekend (Sabbath Eve) her father would return from the synagogue and sit with her mother and would tell a story from the Bible or part of the week's portion (Torah reading for that week). This partnership was very sweet in her eyes, but even so, she hadn't ever shared this or spoken about it.

There is a fear that describing distresses and difficulties that are part of Mizrachi existence might serve as proof of Mizrachi inferiority and as an excuse for justifying the oppression. (May we not forget that distresses are not part of our nature and do not indicate the quality of people but rather the fact that oppression exists.) Feeling that it is not legitimate to share and tell has created feelings of isolation, secrecy, and shame. This is already being contradicted when people tell which countries their families come from and continue with stories from their parents' home.

At workshops, it can be seen how the sharing raises feelings of wonder, closeness, and relief. A question that brings up the hurts that were internalized around the subject of identifying is: "How and when did you realize that you are a Mizrachi?"

VIOLENCE

One of the reasons it is difficult to identify as Mizrachi comes from an indirect hurt that relates Mizrachim and violence. An indirect hurt is not direct, clear, or apparent, but rather latent and obscure and not personal.

Indirect hurts directed toward Mizrachim happen every day around us, each time that a Mizrachi person is treated in a non-respectful or degrading way, be it through the media, in advertisements, movies or with jokes.

A rampant, indirect hurt relates violence to Mizrachim-seeing Mizrachim as violent and without restraint, prone to uncontrollable outbursts of anger and rage. This hurt is directed at Mizrachim as a whole, although some particular ethnic groups have been targeted more harshly.

We were misled in thinking that this is the way things are. The assumed connection between Mizrachim and violence detracts from Mizrachim humanness and reinforces the oppression. People from every ethnic background express violence-only with the Mizrachim is it understood to be general and all-inclusive.

Let us not be afraid that we are contaminated by violence. Even if we experienced violence, we now have free choice and full control of our lives. Mizrachim are not violent; it is sufficient to look at ourselves to be convinced.

MIZRACHI IDENTITY IN THE PRESENT

We all have some picture about how "real" Mizrachim look, talk, act, and think. The picture may include grandpa, grandma, mother, father, friends from the neighborhood . . . and we ourselves may not be in it. What should we do? Do we need to learn prayer songs by heart or learn to clean feathers from chickens in order to be part of our picture?

Or do we need to go back and look at the picture and notice that we are part of it, that we were born Mizrachim and that there's no need for us to do anything for it.

To be Mizrachi doesn't mean to agree to fit into the sieve that the oppression designed for us.

To be Mizrachi means to be who we are and to be proud of that. Today each one of us determines and designs the Mizrachi identity in the present. Each one of us is exactly as a Mizrachi should be; that's how Mizrachim look, that's how they behave, and that's how they think-exactly like us.

Since I've found similarities between the liberation of Mizrachi Jews and the liberation of people of color, I'd love to get responses and/or exchange ideas and views.

Orit Aviv
Catzanelson 83/A
Girataim 53271, Israel
(translated by Sara Kallai)


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00