Echoing Identities: Young Mizrahi Anthology

[This is a long version of the introduction that we wrote for the book “Echoing Identities: Young Mizrahi Anthology“.  Mati Shemoelof, Nafthalie Shem-Tov, Nir Baram (Eds.), Am-Oved Publishers, 2007]

Having decided to edit an anthology about the identity of young Mizrahis, we turned to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of Israel to inquire how many third-generation young Mizrahis are living in Israel today. We were surprised to learn that there are no young Mizrahis; we are all Israelis. “If your parents were born in Israel, the authorities wouldn’t care if you celebrate the Mimuna holiday”, answered the sleepy CBS official. Our parents and grandparents who immigrated to Israel are identified by the CBS as of Asian-African origin, but the State labels us as unknown. “You haven’t got over it?!” they ask us, referring to our Mizrahi-ness and then: “Just a second, hold on, aren’t you Israelis, and what is this Mizrahi-ness anyway?”
Good question

In this anthology, we record diverse answers from young Mizrahis who refuse to have their identity erased, then re-labelled as Israeli. Lately there have been a large number of books written by second-generation Mizrahi intellectuals, those who are are still classified under the “Asian-African” category in the CBS. This second generation experienced the pain of being “thrown into the “melting pot”, the idea that dominated the Israeli discourse in the early decades of the State. The intellectual and social resistance of the second-generation Mizrahis is our arena

Most of the writers in the anthology grew up in the Israeli periphery during the 1970s and 1980s, decades full of intensive social-cultural changes, such as the struggle of the Israeli Black Panthers, the upheaval of the 1977 election, and the Menachem Begin ‘Project of Renewal and Rehabilitation of the Neighborhoods’. The experiences of those decades echoe in the texts of the anthology, and they (re)form and constitute Mizrahi identity. Whereas the borders of their space for the first and the second generations were within the boundaries of the ‘Ma’abara’ (“Jewish” refugee camps) and the Blocks, the third generation grew up in the renewed and rehabilitated neighborhoods. The Arabic soundtrack of Zuzu Musa and Joe Amar was merged into the Mizrahi music revealed in Zohar Argov songs, and followed by Sarit Hadad’s feminist Mizrahi light pop songs. Besides watching the Arabic film that was screened on Israeli national TV on Friday nights, the third generation watched the Burekas movies on illegal cable TV. Indeed, the literature that has dealt with the Mizrahi experience has occupied an important place in Israeli culture. and Mizrahi music marked a cultural victory and a sign of multi-cultural pluralistic ideas, but the memory of the oppression has been etched in the pain of the new Mizrahi experience. This socio-cultural change sketches and outlines the inner boundaries of the space of the writers’ different experiences. The third generation has the privilege of identifying with the struggle and memory of the second and first generations; uses their achievements, but can also reject them

Most of the texts concentrate on cultural memory, on the relationship between the child and his/her friends and relatives, between the child and his/her parents, between the child and the big city. Some of the writers investigate cultural, linguistic and historic absence and they find it hard to answer the question “what are the substances of Mizrahi identity?”. The ignorance of the third generation about its parents’ and grandparents’ origin, languages and mother tongues, and the erasure of the history and culture of the Arab-Jewish communities have accumulated into painful feelings of disappointment and regret, a wounding reflected in most of the texts in this book . When we finished reading all the texts, the first word that came into our mind was “injured”

Formal Hebrew, which lacks the letters ’heth’ and ‘ayin’ ( the sound of which comes from the Arabic language) is challenged by the texts with images and different linguistic registers, which rise up from the street, the neighborhood and the market, and are elements of an important new slang. This anthology project has no interest in a separatism and isolationism. Its purpose is to open a window and give voice to a generational experience that didn’t get the attention it deserves. Giving the right stage to that kind of generational voice affects its writers and readers, and also freezes a whole sense of social movement and embodies it

With our excitement and the passion of the idea of representing a new Mizrahi generation, we were not convinced that this idea would also excite the writers of the anthology. Indeed most of the anthology writers displayed hesitancy during the project. “Once I was not a whole Mizrahi, but later I was a little bit of one, and now I’m not really sure, but sometime I feel like one.” Yehezkel Rahamim tell us about the difficulty of writing in an anthology that situates him under the label of an “ethnic writer”. Why are the writers are so afraid of the “ethnic labeling” and where does this fear come from? And who is the mysterious entity that labels us? “Dealing with the question of ‘coming out of the Mizrahi closet’, or to use the exact definition of that process – to talk about the violent act that took me out of my closet – is vividly presented here”, points out Yonit Naaman, and stresses the trials and tribulations of her exposure

Most of the writers also have a living dialogue with their significant Father and Mother figures. Iris Argaman is looking for her Moroccan mother tongue that disappeared in her parents’ “correct” and “bright” use of the Hebrew Language. Naama Gershi displays to us an impossible love-story between her Mizrahi father and her Ashkenazi mother. Sometimes the parental figures from school replace the real ones. Eliana Almog and Yali Hashash present a plot that begins with two Mizrahi friends in their thirties who meet at the funeral of Nathan, their Ashkenazi high school teacher. The absence of parental figures emphasizes a peripheral orphanhood. Thus the lonely child of Eyal Ben Moshe walks alone on the beach of Netanya, looking for a father figure and meeting with the neighborhood’s most scary criminal

Our intentions were to edit an anthology that refers not only to the Mizrahi community but also to others. Each writer was required to write about a significant experience in his/her life that connects the personal to a wide general theme. The anthology integrates different writing genres and styles, from prose to personal (autobiographical) essay writing. The process of editing this book was a long and winding road but nevertheless it was an inspiring, interesting and exciting journey with different creative writers, every one of whom gave us a unique humanistic perspective in the voyage to (re) construct the new young Mizrahi identity

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About Mati Shemoelof

משורר, עורך וסופר. A Writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: