Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Sephardi Perspective: The "other" Jews


OK, could the Jpost have found anyone who could have been more offensive about Sephardim than this blogger? And wait until you see the comments—the baffoons have all come out to attack us. Great.

Now we have an “Ashley” who will represent us to the outside world. At this point, it appears she is a “Boureka Jew” (the Sephardic Equivalent of a “Bagel Jew”).

Aren’t we all celebrating now?



August 16 2007; 10:08AM
Posted by Ashley Perry (Perez) | Comments: 4

Do you have many cousins all with the same name as you, and no one seems to be able to pronounce your last name? Do you clap weirdly, ululate and do this strange dance with your arms at weddings? Do you have more carpets on your walls than on your floors at home?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then chances are you're a Sephardi, Oriental, or Eastern Jew. As one Jewish political expert once put it, you are one of those "other Jews". As Sephardim we have to put up with a lot, we are a minority within a minority and have to fight for any sort of acknowledgement. Most people don't know who we are but they will always know who we are not, Ashkenazim.

We are from such places as India, Morocco, Iraq, Spain and the UK. The UK, you say? "If you are from the UK you must be Ashkenazi," I am constantly being told. When I tell these people not only am I from the UK but my family had been living in London centuries before any meaningful Ashkenazi community emerged, they are astonished. The same can be said for the US and Australia.

Yes, the English-speaking Sephardi is a curious creature to those who meet him or her. We did not grow up eating gefilte fish, knowing the odd word in Yiddish and klezmer music seemed like a screeching drowned rat to our ears. We did not know there was a Reform, Conservative or Haredi 'Shul' to go to; we just went to the Bet Knesset or Esnoga with our fellow Jews.

Today Sephardim make up about 10% of English speaking Jewry, but for all purposes we may as well be negligible. We are ignored when it comes to our culture, our history and politics. Our food is passed off as 'Israeli' when in fact our ancestors had been making Bourekas, Humous and Koube for generations. I have heard people say that they are a fan of Sephardi culture because they like Sarit Hadad, Eyal Golan or whatever bubble-gum Mizrahi pop is big at the time.

We Sephardim feel our roles in Jewish history have been expunged or deleted from classrooms or the textbooks. Jewish history seems to jump from one European disaster to another, the European enlightenment, Chasidut, the Holocaust and then the State of Israel. How many people can tell me one event that took place in the Sephardi World other than the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion? How many people know that the Holocaust wiped out 90% of the Ladino-speaking World and that there even concentration camps in North Africa.

How many people know that Theodore Herzl's grandfather was a student of Rav Yehuda Alkalai, one of the leading Sephardi Rabbis of his generation and the first modern Zionist political thinker? We know for a fact that Herzl was close with his grandfather, so it is very possible that the Zionist foundations came from a religious Sephardi Rabbi.

As a regular reader of the English news in Israel it would seem in a nation where almost every other Jew is a Sephardi, we are again subject to a downgrade. Yes, we all hear the 'crazy' pronouncements of a Shas politician and are amused by the wild gesticulations of the 'Amami' but there it ends.

Sephardim in this country are looked down on by some of the English-speaking public in Israel. We want to instill 'western values' in Israel and bring those Jews into the 21st century. What they may not be aware of his while Eastern European Jewry were stuck in the ghetto, many of the Sephardim could speak five languages and were versed in such disciplines as philosophy and sociology.

This all sounds like a bit of a rant, much of it tongue-in-cheek, but important nonetheless. This blog will seek to put a Sephardi perspective on events where none existed. It is to give a voice to English-speaking Sephardim, introduce ourselves to Ashkenazim and provide context to the many Sephardim in Israel who don't speak English.

So pull up a chair, pour yourself some Arak and enjoy the ride into the world of the "other Jews".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please do not use comments to personally attack other posters.