If Israeli Jewish society is going to move forward dealing with its own racial tensions, it needs British and world Jewry to do the same. Generations of Mizrahi Jews in the UK no longer understand their own history: they have been taught to weep for Krakow but never for Sanaa.
By Leeor Ohayon
Deep in the heart of North East London, where South Tottenham meets Stamford Hill, sits an Adenese Jewish community. Here, I was born and raised, born into a mixed Yemenite-Moroccan family in the middle of a Mizrahi Jewish bubble. Within that bubble, where Hebrew was sung in heavy guttural pronunciations, where cussing was done in Arabic, and where women ululated at bar mitzvahs and weddings, we lived an existence away from the “Fiddler on the Roof”-style clichés that have come to dictate society’s understanding of Jews.
In my community a large percentage were ’67 refugees. The last Jews of Aden, who in 1967 boarded British ships with nothing but the clothes on their back, forced to flee suddenly in the midst of the turmoil of the British colonial exit. An ancient community, 2,000 years old, uprooted overnight, made its way to North East London to join an already established Adenese Jewish community that traced its roots to the heyday of the British Empire. Yet, despite their historical place in the British Jewish landscape, their presence remains forgotten by the mainstream Anglo-Jewish narrative. Similarly, no one speaks of the Iraqi-Jewish merchants who set up thriving communities in London and British Mumbai, nor of the Egyptian-Jews who arrived with the empire, or the Iranian-Jewish presence.
Attending British Jewish schools my entire life, it did not take long for me to realize that my Judaeo-Berber surname, brown skin and Mizrahi identity were undesirable. Better yet, they weren’t “really Jewish.” That undesirability, that categorization of what is Jewish, is chained to a non-pluralist Eurocentric reality which dictates Jewish history and culture, from Israel to the UK.
Judaism, we are told, is uniform: it is socially Eastern European, linguistically Yiddish, ethnically White. Judaism is never Brown, Arabic or Middle Eastern. Subsequently, the Mizrahi Jew is whitewashed from the Jewish historical narrative, which in turn has allowed for his erasure from both Western and Arab historical, social and political discourse surrounding the Middle East. The non-Jewish world thus understands Judaism and Israeli society through Eurocentric-Ashkenazi paradigms provided for them by the Ashkenazi experience, which...Read More