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May 12, 1978 - Image 46

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-05-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

16 Friday, Nay 12, 131$



Sephardim Bring Diverse Cultures to Israel

hides, on horses and don- guages, customs and people
keys and on foot. Some com- was a bit of a strain. "What
bined several modes of kind of Jew never heard of
JERUSALEM — The travel, like the 120,000 gefilte fish?!" This was
founding of the state of Icc- Jews who trudged on foot overheard not three decades
rael 30 years ago was the and donkey-back from ago, but three weeks ago.
starting gun for a mad rush Yemen to Aden and from Who can tell what similar,
of Jews coming home. And there were flown (during and even stronger, com-
come home they did — in Operation Magic Carpet) to ments were to be heard back
the hundreds of thousands. Israel and the 20th Cen- then?
The decade immediately fol- tury. There was the man
Language was another
lowing the establishment of who rode his donkey all the problem. Even when
the state was a revolu- way from Bukhara to everyone was -speaking
tionary one for many vete- Jerusalem. Satisfied that Hebrew — there was no
ran settlers as well, with all was well, he turned guarantee that com-
Jews from far and near all around, returned to munication was taking
converging on one small Bukhara, and brought his place. The European ac-
patch of desert and swamp. aged father back with him cent drove Easterners
And nearly 70 percent were — all on the same faithful crazy with the strain of
Jews of Sephardi origin.
trying to comprehend.
They came in airplanes,
As might be expected, the On the other hand, the
on board ships, in motor ye- sudden confluence of Ian- breathy (and correct)
Oriental "kchet" and
deep throat "ayin",
"kghuf" and "tghet"
were harsh on Western
ears and could easily
choke any European
foolhardy enough to try
and imitate them.
The theory held by Dr.
Eliezer Jaffe, a senior lec-
turer at Hebrew Univer-
sity's School of Social Work,
is that in desperation the
harried authorities decided
on the official policy of forg-
ing a new Jew. Unfortu-
nately, they created him in
their own image; he was
strictly an Eastern Euro-
In trying to explain the
alienation of Israel's
Sephardim from their own
culture, as well as to under-
stand the difficulties this
large segment of the popu-
lation (55 percent) have had
in getting acclimated, Jaffe
explains that there was a
policy of acculturation, of
one culture absorbing the
other. It wasn't so much
that Israel's European-born
leaders opposed Eastern
culture — they were simply
unaware of its existence.
Several years ago the Is-
raeli establishment was
rudely awakened to the fact
of Sephardi discontent. A
group of young Sephardim
calling themselves the
"Black Panthers" disturbed
the status quo by pointing
out some very uncomforta-
ble facts and comparing the
situation of Sephardi Jews
in Israel with that of Black
It was then discovered
that there was an "other
Israel," comprised of
poor, undereducated, in-
adequately housed
families. Investigations
showed that, while 64
percent of the children
entering school were
Sephardi, only 34 percent
of the first-year high
school students were of
Eastern orgin, 12 percent
of the first year college
population and 4 percent
of the BA degree reci-
pients. (These figures
have since improved by
about 4 percent) A total
of 45,000 families, most of
them Sephardi, were
found to be living in sub-
standard housing.
Complete Food Centers
How had this situation
come about? Immigrants
arriving in the 1950s to a
newly-born state struggling


World Zionist
Press Service


To The

State Of


On Its

30th Anniversary

Of Independence

This Yemenite woman and her child exemplify the
diverse cultures represented by the Sephardi Jews as
they left their native countries to make their homes in
Israel. Many of the Sephardim, who came from
Arabic-speaking countries, were housed in tents and
shanties until housing could be made available to ac-
commodate the influx of new immigrants.
• ••
for its physical and eco-
useless in the new.
nomic existence were placed
Immigrant parents
in ma'abarot: tent and
worked to preserve their
shanty towns providing traditions, beliefs and val-
temporary shelter for the
ues; their children worked
hundreds of thousands of hard to shed anything that
Jews suddenly turning up made them different from
from everywhere. Most of the Ashkenazim who were
the newcomers accepted constantly held up for their
these poor conditions be- emulation.
cause they understood that
Needless to say, many of
the fledgling state could do the young Sephardim
no better at that time. And whether they remembered
they patiently awaited the the lands of their parents or
promised improvements.
were Israeli-born, became
In the meantime, a great totally alienated, ashamed
leap had to be made, a com-
of their origins and their
plete change in culture; "primitive" parents.
cherished beliefs and values
Those Sephardim who
were challenged daily.
fought their way into the es-
Under the compulsory tablishment demonstrated
education law, the immig- their success by adopting
rants' children were sent to European life-styles, by
Israeli schools and were "passing" as Ashkenazim.
taught Jewish history and
When the Israeli Black
customs according to prev-
Panthers came into the
iously established Euro- picture, Jaffe explains,
pean assumptions. Every they shook not only the
day upon returning home Ashkenazi establish-
these children were con- ment, but also the
fronted with a reality hear- Sephardi elite who were
ing little or no resemblance forced into taking an-
to what they were being other look at the choices
taught in school.
they had made. Many of
these people returned to
How were they to iden-
tify with the Ashkenazi. the Sephardi fold and be-
looking children de- came advocates for their
picted in their school beleaguered com-
books? How could they munities.
Recently, a powerful
help but compare their
parents, many still in tra- lobby consisting of both Is-
ditional costumes and raeli and Diaspora Sephar-
speaking Arabic, with dim has formed. During the
the smartly dressed 29th Zionist Congress held
Western teachers and in Jerusalem in February,
with the parents of their they demonstrated their
schoolmates? Many of solidarity and strength by
their parents could not presenting certain resolu-
read, and the oral knowl- tions to the Zionist Execu-
edge which had served tive. Chief among their de-
them so well in the old mands were more equal re-
country was practically presentation on the various

levels of the World Zionist
Organization, a larger cut of
the budget for Sephardi
Jewish education in the
Diaspora, and concrete
solutions to the "social gap"
dilemma in Israel.
The Israeli government
has been working with the
World Sephardi Federation
in devising plans to combat
the poverty cycle in many
predominantly Sephardi
villages and neighborhoods.
Sephardi culture is fi-
nally being given its right-
ful place in the national life
of Israelis. History
textbooks are being rewrit-
ten to include the contribu-
tions and achievements of
Oriental Jews to the state of
Israel and the Jewish
people. Holidays such as the
Moroccan Maimona and the
Kurdish Saharana are now
receiving official recogni-
Public figures are
showing up at Sephardi
celebrations, giving them
the acceptance and sta-
ture previously denied
them. Pressure is on to
elect a Sephardi
president, which would
be a source of pride to
many Eastern Jews the
world over. (Yitzhak Na-
von, a Sephardi and
Labor Party member of
the Knesset, was elected
president in April.)
If Israel's first 30 years
were devoted to forging and
defending the first sover-
eign Jewish state in 2,000
years, perhaps the next 30
years must be devoted,
among other things, to fac-
ing the challenge of cultural
I am not a visionary nor a
But —
I confess: that I am
confident that a tremendous
enthusiasm will soon engulf
Jewish people.
— Theodor Herd


37- • • '

"n, 111111a

The Knesset building in

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