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Ten things you didn't know about Mimouna

Mimouna, the traditional festival celebrated by North African Jews on the last day of Passover, is often overlooked when discussing the Jewish holiday of liberation. Here are 10 things you might not know about the celebration that once brought Jews and Muslims together. 

By Ophir Toubul

1. The name of the holiday, “Mimouna,” has several different, fascinating meanings. The most famous of them attribute the name to the Hebrew word “emuna” (belief), the death of the preeminent medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher, Rambam (“Maimonides”) or the name of the Berber goddess of luck (“Mimouna”). A less popular explanation ascribes the name of the holiday to the city of Tamimouna near Sudan, from which many Jews came to the Tafilalt region in southern Morocco. During the Passover Seder, alongside the prayer for “next year in Jerusalem,” it was customary to pray for a return to Tafilalt. Does this mean we are actually Sudanese?

2. Mimouna symbolized North Africa, and specifically the close relations between Jews and Muslims there. In many places it was the Muslims who brought wheat, milk and butter to the Jews at the end of the holiday so they could make food. Jews in Morocco were viweed as ones who blessed the land for the entire year, and the Muslims saw the holiday as an opportunity to pay back their Jewish neighbors. In the city of Azemmour, Muslims allowed the Jews to use their fields and gardens for the entire day, out of a belief that the Jews would bless the land and leave it fertile.

3. An exceptional story on this topic can be found in the book “Zachur L’Avraham.” It describes how in the city Fes, the gates to the mellah (Jewish quarter) were locked by the police, and entrance to Muslims was forbidden. A Jew who wanted to invite his Muslim friend for Mimouna was forced to go to the police station and leave both their identification cards there until the end of the visit.

4. There is no one way to celebrate Mimouna. There are communities who make mofletta (a traditional pancake served during the holiday) and there are those who do not. There are places where Mimouna was celebrated at home, there were Jewish cities where the streets were filled with celebrations and in other places Jews celebrated in the fields and gardens. The main idea behind the holiday is...

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LISTEN: The rarest records, from India to Palestine

The members of Tel Aviv’s Fortuna Records have spent the last several years collecting some of the rarest records from the Middle East. The music runs the gamut from classical Egyptian to Palestinian folk to Greek-Israeli music. Check out a mixtape of their favorite rarities, accompanied by their stunning (and often strange) album covers.

By Fortuna Records

Cafe Gibraltar album covers (Koko)

1. Koko – Koko

The debut album by Koko, an unknown singer on the Tel Aviv “Kol Dorit” label, and who sings in Greek, is without a doubt one of the best albums recorded in Israel during the 1970s. If you ask us, it’s also the best Greek album recorded in Israel, period. Koko, however, was never recognized as a “gifted” singer in the local scene at the time, as many claimed that he did not have the correct Greek accent.

On the cover: Koko dons a flowery, open shirt, flare pants and a golden Star of David necklace as he stands in the middle of “Mini Israel” in a million-dollar pose. No doubt one of the better album covers to come out of the genre.

Cafe Gibraltar album covers (Oriental Dances)

2. Unknown Artist – Oriental Dances Past & Present

There is no information on this instrumental album that was released in 1974 on the Lebanese Duniaphon label. So little is know that even the name of the artist remains unknown. This is one of the strangest and most special albums that came out of Lebanon in the 70s. Trumpets and saxophones accompanies by darbukas and electric guitars. The beat is the traditional Arab one, but the mood is somewhere between Japan, Lebanon and Spain.

On the cover: The album was bought in a record store in Athens several months ago. Without listening, we just knew this album couldn’t remain in the story. Imagine a Lebanese version of Kill Bill. And it sounds just like it looks… killer!

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To my Ashkenazi girlfriend, and the one who is yet to come

It’s fairly common these days to hear people in Israel claim that there can’t be racism because everyone is marrying everyone else, regardless of ethnicity. Except that’s not really true.

By Adi Sadaka

Part 1: A certain kind of truth

When I began studying film five years ago, one of the first movies they showed us was David Ofek’s “Bayit” (Home), from 1994.

The movie, which was Ofek’s final project, tells the story of an Iraqi family in Israel during the Gulf War of 1991. David (who plays himself) arrives at his parent’s home with his Ashkenazi girlfriend. Together they live through the gas masks, the ethnic differences, the air raid sirens and the debilitating heat.

We also get to meet Ofek’s parents, as well as his grandmother. And while the film is fictional, Ofek’s grandmother also plays herself, causing us to believe that there is a semblance of truth in the film. The film touches upon the difficulty of romantic relationships between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim in those days, and especially the sacrifices made in order to survive in those kinds of relationships.

It’s fairly common these days to hear people claim that there can’t be racism because everyone is marrying everyone else, regardless of ethnicity. But how true is this? And at what price?

Part 2: Quiet Ashkenazi music

I loved her. I truly did. She made my life hell, but something about her just caught me.

We met by chance, actually. And the truth is that I didn’t think it would go the way it did. But it did go there, and soon enough we were in a fraught and complicated relationship.

And I loved her. Despite the fact that she was always thinking about herself or the fact that she kept on discounting me, over and over again, I loved her. And even when I began discounting myself so that I could be with her, I loved her. And I think that she loved me too. At least that’s what she said.

Everything was always out on the table for her. Because she had nothing to hide. She, of course, could be proud of what she was – Polish and lovely. And me? I always put my head down when she spoke about the Holocaust. I felt like I didn’t have the right to say a...

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Can a Mizrahi girl fit into Israel's national story?

I grew up in a place where my first name was nothing more than a word on my identification card. Where the Holocaust was something that didn’t belong to me. Where my story had no place. All because of my ethnicity. 

By Adi Sadaka

Ever since I was a young girl and through my years growing up in Kiryat Tiv’on, I found myself trying my best to conceal my last name. In the small town where I lived in Israel’s north, the heartland of Ashkenazi identity, I felt, without even understanding what I was feeling at the time, that it was better simply not to admit that I was Mizrahi.

The first step in this process was to try not to say my last name out loud. Sometimes this worked. But my last name was almost always revealed, and regardless of where I went, everyone just called me “Sadaka.”

My first name became nothing more than a word on my ID card.

In high school, my brother’s older friends – he was also called “Sadaka” – called me “Little Sadaka.” Even after I left Tiv’on, went to the Garin (a pre-army year course), was drafted into the army and moved to Tel Aviv,  people insisted on calling me by my last name. And I’ve heard it in all of its forms: Sadakush, Sedek, Sidkit, Sudoku.

My first name, Adi, is used only by my family members and maybe two or three friends.

My classmates who grew up with me in Tiv’on will be very upset with me if they hear me claim that even in our small town there is discrimination based on ethnicity. They will surely say that I am searching for racism in places where it does not exist, and that no one in actually Tiv’on cares where you come from. But when you talk about where you are going, well, that’s where you can see the difference.

Tiv’on is clearly divided into two areas. On the lefthand side of Tiv’on Junction there is Kiryat Amal. Kiryat Amal includes the most Zionist streets in town: Alexander Zaïd, Moshe Sharett, Yigal Alon, Yitzhak Rabin and Hannah Senesh. People whose reputation precedes them.

On the righthand side of the junction, one sees the old Kiryat Tiv’on and the relatively new neighborhood of Ramat Tiv’on. These neighborhoods are named after flowers and plants.

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Re-learning history: A tribute to North Africa's Jewish artists

Though often forgotten in Israel today, some of North Africa’s biggest cultural assets were in fact Jewish. Meet the stars who shaped Maghrebi music, from the classical to the contemporary.

By Ophir Toubul

‘There arose the idea of taking people who have nothing in common. The one lot comes from the highest culture there is — Western European culture — and the other lot comes from the caves.’
— famed Israeli poet, Natan Zach.

I, too, used to think this way, and I imagine that a large part of those who went through the Israeli educational system do too. And then I learned about Maurice el Medioni music. It has been seven years since the miracle – since I began re-learning my own history.

Through Maurice el Medioni I learned about dozens of Jewish musicians who were famous in North Africa, before the establishment of the State of Israel. Musicians who received and continue to receive prizes, who are the subjects of documentaries and are generally considered cultural assets of North African culture. It is redundant to state that most of this recognition takes place outside Israel. In Israel, these musicians were at best ignored – at worst they were ridiculed. The following list will provide an example of some of these artists, many of whom have been active in recent years.

‘Treasures from Jewish-Arab songs’ – compilations from North Africa’s biggest artists. It was released in France in the 00’s:
Cafe Gibraltar

A few months ago, I was honored to be part of a group of 20 people, the first Israelis to watch Les Port Des Amours, a documentary film about singer Reinette l’Oranaise. The film, which took no less than 23 years to reach Israel and was screened by the Institut Francais, follows the legendary blind singer/oud player who was loved by Jews and Muslims alike in her home country of Algeria, specifically due to her deep, inimitable voice and her knowledge of the country’s folk music.

The following clip is the only one I could find from the film on YouTube. We see Reinette arguing with her pianist, Mustafa Sakandari, on the length of the Istikbar – the introduction to the piece. In the subtitles, the word Istikbar is translated as...

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Farhud, 1941: Iraqi Jews remember a massacre

On the holiday of Shavuot in 1941, Iraq’s Jews experienced a pogrom that claimed over 180 lives and ended in mass looting. But there’s another story from the Farhud that often goes undiscussed: the bravery of Muslims during the crisis.

“The Farhud” / Foreword By Orit Bashkin (translated by Asaf Shalev)

Silently but not without some noise, a blessed thing is happening in Israel right now. The general category of “Mizrahiness” is falling apart into the stories of specific communities, cities, places, languages and memories: Iraq and Morocco, Aleppo and Oran, Ladino and Aramaic. All of them are asking to tell the stories of their Jewish communities. As part of this beautiful centrifugal process – which is being led by novelists, poets, historians, folklorists, literary and musical artists – the history of the Jewish community of Iraq is also crystallizing. This magnificent community has sprouted an amazing literature written by Jews in Arabic. In Iraq, the European education of community members did not prevent them from falling in love with Arab literature and culture, which were taught in the Jewish schools (both public and private). The love was preserved here in Israel as well. In Iraq, they also used the term Arab Jews, at times politically (to express support for the Palestinians) and at times culturally to connote Jews that love Arabic and Arab culture.

This love and the desire to integrate into modern Iraqi society were challenged starting in 1939. Part of the nationalistic Arab elites – and I stress, only part – sought to cooperate with Germany, as an enemy of England (as did anti-British forces in the liberation movements of India, in the Irish liberation army, and even in the Lehi, or Stern Gang). In April and May of 1941, Iraq experienced a military coup, led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. When the British forces were about to enter Baghdad (on the first and second of June), with the defeat of Rashid Ali’s forces, a terrible slaughter against the Jews of Iraq took place. A mob of discharged soldiers, military youth groups, corrupt cops, city dwellers – and on the second day, poor robbers and looters – took the lives of at least 180 Jews. The British forces could have entered the city earlier and saved the Jews but they decided to not get involved. The Farhud is at the center of a number of studies, but...

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Now trending: Orientalism for babies

Most of the world is not familiar with post-colonial theory, and this album’s success is due to the audience’s naiveté. But forget politics; let me hug a baby and sing songs of nostalgia, anew.

By Ilana Shazur

Whoever chose the name “Baby Oriental 2” likely never heard of the term Orientalism. Had they heard of it, they would never have dared choose that name. Perhaps the opposite would be true, since they would be well versed in the discourse on Orientalism in academia and among the radical left. In any case, one of the most successful albums in Israel today is full of “world music” renditions of classic children’s songs. It might just be the format for international success.

Upon first listening to the album, I couldn’t help but shudder. On the one hand, the renditions are lovely and refreshing. On the other, it is a mixture that does not differentiate between cultures and nations. Let’s start with “Pizmon L’Yakinton” (“A Chorus for the Hyacinth”) by Liora Yitzhak, the most Indian singer in Israel today. The combination of Hindi with Hebrew sounds exotic and acceptable ever since she accompanied Israeli singers like Idan Raichel, Yoav Itzhak, Ahuva Ozeri, HaDag Nachash and Sholomo Bar with the protest song “Ritalin.” Pizmon L’Yakinton is the first song Liora Yitzhak recorded in Israel, and became a hit within a month. Is it because Israel’s Army Radio included it in its playlist? (And is it not absurd that that power is held by a few people in the army?) Is it because these well-known songs have been worn and played out, and here comes this international style to revive them? The small ensemble that is responsible for the music is moving and sweeps you away. The tune “Etze Li Hashuka” (“To the Market I Go”) is danceable and will certainly suit intimate moments between parents and children. Morin Nehedar’s lovely waltz makes me move, and the gentle simplicity of “Danny Gibor” (“Danny the Hero”) reawakened my compassion for the sad child of my youth. Touching.

Pizmon L’Yakinton – Liora Yitzhak

The album is a record-breaker in terms of sales. Parents who bought it did not feel reservations about the musical mixtures, since the Israeli ear is accustomed to such combinations. In fact, Israeli music is one big mix of styles and influences. I...

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LISTEN: Classic Lebanese sounds, from jazz to Fairouz

Jeries Murkus Ballan is a 25-year-old musician and performer who lives between Nazareth and Haifa. Ballan, who teaches music, plays the bouzouki and works in dance and theater, brings us a mixtape of classic Lebanese songs, including everything from classical to jazz. 

By Khen Elmaleh

Tell us a bit about the mixtape

The mixtape is made up of Lebanese music, from folklore to the contemporary.

What was your first encounter with music?

I don’t exactly remember when I started becoming interested in music. Since I was young I was interested in everything from theater and acting to playing music. I mostly grew up in my grandparents’ home in Kafr Yasif in northern Israel, where I was exposed to cultures from across the world, especially music. From Tchaikovsky and Mozart to Joan Baez and Fairouz. We listened to a lot of South American music, Lebanese music, classical operas and protest songs from the 60s.

Thanks to their home I now draw on all of these influences when I make music.

What came next?

As a child I listened to a lot of Fairouz, as well as her son, Ziad Rahbani. When I began studying music professionally at 13, jazz became a central part of my life and began blending in with the Lebanese music I had been listening to my whole life. When I started studying composition at Haifa University, contemporary music, or as it’s called – classical-modern music – caught my attention and began changing the way I understood the composition process.

Our identity as Arabs or Jews in this land is very eclectic, and it’s reflected in my musical influences and preferences. Mahler and Stravinsky were also eclectic.

Where do you buy your music?

Over the last few years I’ve been traveling to Jordan to buy albums and recordings of live performances that you just can’t find in Israel. I also share pirated songs, especially Lebanese music that isn’t found in record stores today.

Before we press play?

The music I chose was made through a real compositional process of writing, as well as culling together musicians from several countries to perform the music itself. I am especially fond of the pieces by the composer Ziad Rahbani, who was always very firmly opposed to the orientalism that took over Arab music. He creates music that doesn’t answer to Western ideas of...

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Neither Russian nor Israeli: Lessons from a journey to the homeland

After years of denying her Russian identity, Osnat Ita Skoblinski finally made peace with the cultural world of her friends and family. However, she never expected her first trip back ‘home’ to bring out feelings of hate and revulsion.

By Osnat Ita Skoblinski

My parents, who immigrated to Israel in the 70s, refused to have a decorated Christmas tree in our home. “We’re Jews,” they said, as they set out for a Novy God party on December 31st with Santa hats on their heads. Born in Israel to parents from the Soviet Union, I found New Year’s Eve celebrations especially confusing. I wanted a tree like they had in American films, but the trees I saw in Russian homes went along with characters like Snegurochka, and with wishing each other a “happy new year.”

Yulia Keslow’s post on Novi God (Hebrew) helped me delineate my outsider experience of being Russian in Israel. I recognized many of the traditions from home, yet had never heard of others. I was exposed to Russian culture almost only through the familial spectrum: the holidays, food, language. I related to life under dictatorship through my parents’ trauma and television. My meager knowledge of Russian popular music and literature was filtered through my parents’ cultural world.

The identity of a daughter of immigrants is interesting, because it is composed of nostalgia for something that I never really had – a kind of simulacra of nostalgia. This merely heightens the feeling that something was stolen from me when I was made to feel ashamed of being Russian. My identity was formed by a deep connection with Russian culture, along with an attraction to, and curiosity about, a culture that is actually foreign. This identity is not unique, but rather shared by many of my friends, sons and daughters of Russian immigrants from the 70s – a wave of immigration that changed the demographics and culture of Israel forever. It was an immigration of dissidents, diehard Zionists who were persecuted for their beliefs and torn from their families with no way back. Those circumstances created a group of 163,000 former residents of the USSR in Israel, who experienced assimilation and erasure, largely by choice, out of a strong desire to fulfill the Zionist fantasy and erase their connection with the detested Soviet Union.

This early wave gave birth to some very confused Sabras (Israeli-born citizens). In...

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Outside the jukebox: Female sounds of the Middle East

To mark International Women’s Day, Café Gibraltar is proud to present ‘Bat HaMakom/Bint al-Balad,’ (Local Woman), a compilation of songs – some of them debuted here for the very first time – by the most innovative female artists making music in Israel today.

You can download the album for free, courtesy of the artists.

Click here to download the full album


Ester Rada – Nano Ney

One can recognize the melody of “Nano Ney” from Rada’s rather marginal role in Idan Reichel’s song “Mima’amakim.” In her version, Ester Rada gives the song its proper dues, with lots of energy, a groove that gets stuck in your head and an excellent rock out outro. The song, off of her debut album, is also the first ever song in Amharic to make it to Galgalatz’s (Israeli Radio) playlist.


Natalie Peretz – Ti Rashrash

Natali Peretz, one of the contestants on the first season of “Eyal Golan is Callng You,” breathes new life to one of Lebanon’s biggest hits in the last years. Peretz’s version takes Rami Hussein’s Debka and turns it into contemporary Mizrahi dance. Before Peretz, Hanin Zoabi’s Balad party used the song for one of its hilarious election campaign commercials.


Neta Elkayam – Bint L’Mnam*

Bint L’Mnam, or “daughter of dreams” in Moroccan Arabic, is the theme song from Hanna Azoulay Hasfari’s new film “Anashim Ktumim” (“Orange People”). Amit Hai Cohen brought his personal touch to the traditional-sounding production, and Elkayam’s voice works perfectly with the lyrics, which she wrote along with social activist Reuven Abergil.


Ilana Eliya – Eshet Hayil

In an interview with Café Gibraltar, Ilana Eliya said that all the melodies to the classic “Eshet Hail” were always so sad – she wanted to create an uplifting melody from a woman’s point of view. But behind it all lies something else: the fact that a woman sings it, perhaps about herself and to herself, overturns existing power dynamics: instead of men thanking women of taking over traditional roles in the home, it becomes a song about recognizing one’s self-worth, pride, creativity and power.


Yael Horwitz – Hasta el Final

This week we lost...

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Letter of support for the ultra-Orthodox struggle against draft law

Over 70 Israeli activists publish an open letter in support of the ultra-Orthodox community, as it struggles against a new law that would draft its young men into the army or national civil service.

(Translated from Hebrew by Asaf Shalev)

We, civilians and activists – religious, masorti (tradition-committed) and secular – wish to express our support for the struggle of the ultra-Orthodox community against forced military enlistment.

There must be an end to the empty rhetoric employed by the Israeli government and its constituent parties that are calling for the “sharing of the burden” of military service, by which they are deceiving the public. Such rhetoric is designed to divert public attention from real inequality in Israel:

Inequality among various segments of the population (including the ultra-Orthodox, whose members suffer from dire poverty);

Inequality in educational and employment opportunities in Israel;

Inequality in the moving of certain groups to the country’s periphery as opposed to the concentration of other segments of the population in the geographic center (the economic and cultural center of Israel);

Inequality in the budget allocation for Western cultural activity in Tel Aviv, as opposed to the lack of allocation for Arab, Mizrahi and Ethiopian cultural activity or for cultural activity outside of Tel Aviv in general;

Inequality in the surplus of Jewish Ashkenazi secular men in government, academia, the justice system, and in the economic elite, and in the surplus of Mizrahis, Arabs, Ethiopians and Russians in boarding schools for youth at risk and prisons, in the employment of independent contractors, and in the lower economic classes.

It appears that there is glaring inequality in every area. However, centering the debate on “equality” around the question of military service makes a mockery of the very concept of equality. This process is smokescreen to conceal the truth about severe inequality in economic opportunity, education, employment, funding for arts and culture, and other areas – inequality that does not affect the members of Knesset who spearheaded the very issue of “sharing the burden.”

It is clear to us that conscripting the ultra-Orthodox in Israel would severely compromise their ability to uphold their religious values, while forcing upon them a militaristic Zionist nationalism, which they oppose. It is lamentable that the only context in which the debate on inequality becomes popular is in a nationalist-militaristic one, in an attempt to coerce an insular community to integrate.

It is...

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Meet the man who won't let Israel's musical past die

At first glance, 26-year-old Dudi Petimer may seem like just another guy with a penchant for oldies and a throwback Elvis hairdo. Equipped with an 18,000-strong vinyl collection and endless knowledge of Israeli musical history, Petimer has taken responsibility for preserving the remnants of a culture that never quite made it into the mainstream.

By Khen Elmaleh

It’s difficult for me to remember the first time I encountered the name Dudi Petimer during my wanderings on YouTube. What is certain is that since then, I’ve seen the name many times, to the point that it has become an inseparable part of my search for nostalgic pieces of music. I actually remember the first version of his YouTube page, in which his name appeared as Dudi “Elvis” Petimer. The nickname, along with the songs he uploaded, left no room for doubt: we were talking about a middle-aged man, a romantic, who mainly deals with longing for the past, and who maybe even grows a small, nostalgic pompadour – one that recalls a time in which he jammed all the new rhythm and blues hits with his friends while dancing in the discotheques of Ramle to the sounds of the “rhythm bands.” Those were the days, when the bands brought the rhythm. A big surprise awaited me.

Although he dons a pompadour, and could easily pass for the imaginary fourth member of the Eskimo Limon crew (a famous Israeli film series from the 1970s), it turns out that Dudi Petimer is a young man who, surprisingly, decided to turn his love for the sounds of the past into an enterprise of cultural preservation. He owns an astonishing 18,000 records, including rarities and one-of-a-kinds, which he shares with the world on his YouTube channel (which is updated on a daily basis).

When we decided to hold an interview and put together a mix tape, we went over Petimer’s huge song collection in an attempt to find the rarest and most interesting tracks that he had collected over the years. Throughout that time, we began noticing that each of them had something in common – they all came from the margins. Aside from the music, we found a story of a society – one built from a diversity of cultures, places and sounds, struggling to find its identity. Through this search, our society is being tested, searching for its core to unite everyone around it,...

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Reviving the spirit of Yemen's Jewish goldsmiths

Although goldsmithing among the Jewish community in Yemen goes back generations, most Yemenites were stripped of their ability to continue their work upon their arrival in Israel. The few who remained in the profession watched as their work lost its meaning in Israeli-tzabar culture.

By Tom Fogel

My family from my mother’s side is a family of goldsmiths. It’s a bit strange to write that out, since none of the grandchildren bore witness to our family’s profession. Like many who came from Yemen, the patriarchs of the family were not allowed to bring their tools to Israel, and the women’s jewelry was buried in the sands of Aden. And those who did bring their tools and jewelry did not get them back upon stepping off the plane. Many Yemenite immigrants say the lack of those tools led to their desperate situation upon arriving in Israel. They were used to the social mobility that accompanied a profession such as goldsmithing. In Israel, in the ma’abarot (transit camps for Jewish immigrants) and afterward in permanent towns, they were pushed into working in agriculture and construction. Many weren’t able to break from the route planned for them, and never returned to goldsmithing.

A new book by Yael Gilat brings the stories of Jewish goldsmiths who were able to break through this barrier and continue their work in Israel. Some of them insisted or lied in order to bring their tools along with them, while others were integrated into hegemonic institutions that allows them to work in goldsmithing. But whether they were independent or employed, these goldsmiths were resigned to adapt to the reality and fit themselves into the way the hegemony views them on the one hand, and the way it views their jewelry on the other hand. Their personal stories tell the history of Yemenite art as it encounters Israel’s hegemony.

Mizrahi authenticity, Hebrew antiquity

In the beginning of the 20th century, the study of Eastern culture sought to locate the ancient and untainted source for contemporary Mizrahi culture, which is seen as inferior. Zionism and Israeliness sought the Bible in the Middle East, specifically in Yemen. The biblical branding had two functions: it allowed a burgeoning Israeli-tzabar culture to adopt Mizrahi motifs (folk dancing and music, embroidery) while granting Arab-looking Jews who spoke Arabic, as guardianship of an ancient biblical culture.

Yemenite singer and dancer Lea Avraham: