A Mizrahi in Berlin

Barack Moyal and me. Poetic Hafla #2

This article was first published on Jalta Magazine

Mizrahi Culture refers to the Arab-Jews descents who immigrate to Israel from Both the Islamic region of the Mashrak and the Maghreb. Being Mizrahi in Berlin is a new identity because most of the Jews here are European Ashkenazi Jews. Our parents and grandparents immigrated to Israel and we are the one who emigrated from Israel to Berlin. We live in Europe. But we do not have a European History. This is totally different to our experience in Israel.

Before the Holocaust there were 12 million European Jews in Europe and 1 Million Jews in the Arab States. After the Holocaust, the hegemony of European Jews had changed. When Ben-Gurion created Israel on 1948, he didn’t want to bring the Arab-Jews to the new country. But when he found out what happened in the Holocaust, he sent messengers to all the Arab-Jews communities urging them to immigrate to Israel. Despite Mizrahi Jews make up half of the Jewish Israelis, the state of Israel ignored our heritage and culture and oppressed the Arab-Jews. Just one example that illustrate this is that until the present day, there has not been a Mizrahi Prime minister.

In Berlin, we can still see the group of privileged Jews as a continuation of the Israeli privilege; These are the Jews with European passport or rich parents. Some of the European Jews think that when we are arriving together to Berlin we become the same. But it is not that easy. Nevertheless we feel much better in Berlin.

Poetic Hafla #14

“Poetic Hafla”

The Poetic Hafla was founded in the end of January 2016. The poets Adi Keissar, Mati Shemoelof and Max Czollek had just come back from Basel international literary festival and joined the painter Barack Moyal in a special poetry reading & party at the apartment of the actor Yossef Sweid. Adi Keissar herself is the founder of the Israeli poetry event Ars Poetica that has become a voice to the Mizrahi Culture, mixing belly dancing, party and Spoken word poetry readings. Mati, who had previously been a part of Ars Poetica, immigrated to Berlin on the 21th of September 2013 and published two of Ars Poetica collection of poems.

The “Poetic Hafla” was born as an act of Mizrahi empowerment because Barack, Mati and Adi brought their experiences to the event. “Poetic Hafla” thus became a mirror for a Mizrahi experience in Berlin including Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants from various countries reading their poems in their mother tongue and without translation. Poetic Hafla is a multi lingual poetry, acting and party event. Since it started in a friend’s apartment it has been hosted in seven venues and invited around hundred artists. The Poetic Hafla aspires to create a middle-eastern place in Berlin, reading, acting, performing and singing om multiple languages. It combines the Arabic style party (i.e. Hafla) with the classic hip hop poetry slam.

As organizers, we try to make this show as diverse as possible concerning the artists and the production team regarding gender and culture background. There are ten artists performing every Poetic Hafla, one DJ and one host. Usually, the show starts with a short Middle Eastern fusion d.j set at the beginning and longer set in the end, bringing Christians, Muslims and Jews to dance and share art together. You can almost feel the Mediterranean sun coming to out from the Ud.


A Mizrahi in Berlin

Both of us (Mati and Barack) don’t know Arabic well. We understand only little of our mother tongue. Nevertheless, we have discovered and actively sought connections to our past. Barack went to Morocco, the place where his parents grew up, and painted its landscapes. He then showed this painting in an exhibition in a gallery in Moaabit. Mati’s writing deals with different aspect of the reconstructing of the Mizrahi culture both here and in Israel. Around 2014, Mati started to write a Haaretz column about the life of the Israelis in Berlin. The column that got most attention was about Mizrahi life in Berlin.

A lot of the Askenshi-Israelis think that immigration to Berlin solves their class problem. But if one had privileges in Israel, he doesn’t lose them in Berlin. Yes we are all immigrants here in Berlin. But still there those who have an European passport and those who do not; Those who have white skin and those who do not; and etc.

There is a big part of the Arabic community in Berlin that sees us Mizrahi Jews as a part of them. Sometimes, they can tell we are part of their geographical background by the way we look. And it gives us pleasure to reconnect our brothers and sisters from the Arab world without the Israeli wall to the Middle East.

The German culture does not know a lot of the Mizrahi culture and the struggle we had in Israel. As Jews, we are always being looked upon trough the Zionist glasses. Just recently, the Jewish museum in Berlin had a tribute festival for the heritage of the Moroccan Jews. Nevertheless, this was a celebration and did not include criticism of the way Israel treated and continues to treat our grandparents and parents.

Mizrahi culture was always a mix of East and West. Not only because Israel tried to wipe out our Arab-Jews culture, but also because of the postcolonial situation. For instance, Moroccan Jews spoke Hebrew, Moroccan and French. They were true multiculturalists.

Post-National World

In Israel, the new Israeli community in Berlin is seen as implicit opposition to Israel. Some Israeli officials maintain that we are traitors and betrayers – Jews, who hate themselves because they left their home land. However, we do not regard immigration in a post-national world as a binary act. Neither do we belong to German nationalism, nor have we ever really left our Israeli family, friends and communities. We continue to travel a lot to Israel and participate in its everyday life trough Social Media. We are aware of the privilege we own when being able to live in Berlin. Still, we are not coming from an upper middle class. We got to Berlin trough personal relationships. And we are here temporarily.

We know that the state of Israel is demonizing us in its very own way. However, the Israeli people themselves, our loved ones continue to be a part of us and help us to maintain a connection to the country. In Israel, we were second class citizens. Therefore, we think of post-national life as an upgrade. We are proud of our heritage. And we will keep it no matter what the people are saying. The Poetic Hafla is an important part in this endeavor.

This article was first published on Jalta Magazine