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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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I spent my childhood and teenage years on a small street called Rehov Ha’Vradim (Rose Street) on the top of the hill. The street is part of a neighborhood called Skhunat Ha’Gefen (Vinyard Neighborhood), and most of its residents are Mizrahim. There are a few exceptions, just like there are a few Mizrahi families who live in other parts of Tiv’on. The number of Mizrahi families in Ha’Gefen, however, is far greater.

When people asked me where I’m from, I’d say that I lived near Ramat Tiv’on. I didn’t want to say “Sadaka” nor did I want to tell them what street I lived on. I wanted so badly to be like those Ashkenazi kids from central Tiv’on or Kiryat Amal. Those wonder children who were always the center of attention. I wanted to be just like them. But nothing helped. I remained Sadaka.

Eleventh grade came around, and with it the annual school trip to visit the death camps in Poland. It was clear to me that I was going to go, even though I had no relatives who were in the Holocaust or even ones who escaped just in time. Yes, I have family members, including my father, who were forced to flee Syria in the middle of the night on a dangerous and frightening journey. But I didn’t appreciate this story at the time; I only wanted to see the train tracks at Birkenau. So I spent the entire summer working as a baby-sitter, painting walls and gardening in order to save enough money and be like the others. And I succeeded.

When we arrived in Auschwitz, everyone in my class stood in a ceremonial circle and read aloud the names of their relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. The teacher then pushed a video camera into my hands and said, “Since you don’t have any family members who were murdered in the Holocaust, you need to film the ceremony.” I stood in the middle of the tearful circle and filmed silently. I felt completely disconnected.

Even today, almost 15 years later, I still go back to this incident. I think about where I fit in, from Tiv’on to Auschwitz. I think about the physical places that Mizrahim like myself have been concentrated in. And especially those who live in the nice neighborhoods of Tiv’on or take part of those circles in Auschwitz. I think about the symbolic spaces that we are allowed to occupy with last names such as ours. I think about those who are allowed two names – both first and last – and the kids who prefer to go by their first name. I think about entire families who are reduced to a single last name, and the fact that there is no effort to differentiate between the different people who make up those families.

I think about this and claim my own place. I am Adi Sadaka – Mizrahi wonder child.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Café Gibraltar.

‘But you’re not really Mizrahi’: Rewriting an erased identity
‘How can this monkey be talking about an ideology that developed in Europe?’

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    1. Richard

      More +972 divide-and-conquer propaganda. Mizrahi Jews aren’t going to make common cause with Arabs, get over it. They are right wing. You aren’t going to undermine Zionism with this crap so I don’t see why you bother.

      Reply to Comment
      • Anna

        You haven’t listened to a word Adi said, have you Richard. Just piled in with your own pre-conceived ideas.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard

          Anna – I understand your reaction, since you probably don’t read +972 enough to see that there’s a pattern of articles promoting, either directly or indirectly, the idea that Mizrahim would be better off in a non-Zionist country. +972 isn’t publishing Adi’s story because they care about her story, its because her story reflects an anti-Zionist perspective on Israeli society.

          Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        Its for external consumption. In Israel there is a tiny minority obsessed with creating a ‘Mizrahi’ identity despite the actual non-existence of any such group. There are Jews that came from Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, etc.. with very little in common and no real need or desire to look for an identity outside of their Israeli one. That unity and social cohesion bothers certain people to no end and so they choose to try to create artificial categories so that they can construct an identity that is an antithesis to the Israeli one. Usually they are well-educated, lean far-left and have little if any connection to the culture of their grandparents. What they try to create has no authentic source whatsoever and little appeal. They have failed miserably in Israel. 972mag and fellow travelers translate their barely read nonsense for political reasons for the consumption of Westerners and especially Americans obsessed with ethnicity and race so that they can form a highly flawed and very misguided understanding of Israeli society based on their own entirely unrelated experiences and perceptions. It would be like trying to create a category in the US called “Mediterranean Americans” or “Eastern European Americans”. It is absurd but it gets them research budgets, mostly abroad, and foreign financial support for their groups from the very same audiences they translate these articles for, hence their continued creation.

        Reply to Comment
        • Alex

          you are either Ashkenazi or self hating. NO MIZRACHI IDENTITY IN ISRAEL?! ARE YOU CRAZY? have you been to Israel? theres an entire genre of music called Mizrachi, not to mention every Israeli chasing the most authentic Mizrachi food and tons of Israeli mizrachim coming out in the new generations about how Mizrachi culture was slashed and forced out of the Ashkenazi labor zionism history and narrative. Way to completely continue on that shameful path..ignorance.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            In Israel there is Moroccan food, Yemenite food, Persian food, etc.. There is not and never has been such a thing as ‘Mizrahi food’. It is like talking about European food. It is completely meaningless. If you lived in Israel you would know that.

            There is a popular music in Israel that is called Mizrahi. It is a mutant child of Greek, Turkish and various other kinds of music, including some generic Middle Eastern influences. I happen to be a fan. It has become mainstream music in Israel over the past 20 years. This music is meaningless to the construction of the ‘Mizrahi identity’ that the author and her few friends try to promote. Most of them look down upon it.

            There is no ‘new generation’ seeking out their artificial Mizrahi roots. In the 80s there was an attempt to build such an identity, mostly by the far left, and it failed miserably. The entire Mizrahi/Ashkenazi conversation has become completely obsolete as Israelis marry each other and as the overwhelming majority of Israelis do not seek alternative identities to their Israeli one. That is normal where the generation being born can trace their grandparents to three or four different countries.

            What you read in 972mag and similar sources on the issue is a conversation isolated in Israel to the far left, even of which only a tiny percentage continues to focus on creating an artificial Mizrahi identity.

            Reply to Comment
        • Urooj

          The point is you’re all occupiers and settler-colonists in the land of Palestine… just admit and acknowledge that.. in many ways you do when you say out loud that you’re ashkenazi, mizrahi, etc… you’re not the descendants of the ancient hebrews… indigenous Palestinians are closer to being descendants of ancient hebrews than you all are… unless if you’re a Palestinian Jew, Samaritan, etc… (the Palestinians in the Galilee, many of them were Galilean jews who converted to christianity or to Islam, and Palestinians in Nablus are also descendants of Samaritans).. but they have never forgotten their Palestinian identity.. “Israelis” aka European and Middle Eastern Jews were refugees who came to Palestine and ended up displacing Palestinians, in turn making them refugees in their own land… the first step is acknowledging this… which most Israelis often do (but without any remorse)… once you acknowledge this, then you can move forward and end apartheid, as what happened in South Africa… colonists need to show remorse for their wrong-doings

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            Why would we acknowledge a ridiculous lie?

            We are the native people of the land of Israel. It is our homeland. When we “acknowledge” that we are “Ashkenazi” or “Mizrahi” we acknowledge where we were exiled prior to returning to our homeland and the minor religious differences that appeared due to the geographic separation between us that is no longer relevant. For 2000 years we have never forgotten where we come from and we never will. If Israeli Jews accepting your silly lie as truth lies at the heart of your dreams, then keep dreaming, because it isn’t actually ever going to happen. I am amazed sometimes by people that think like you that expect us to abandon our heritage when we have such a long history during which no oppression has gotten us to forget Jerusalem. The last time it took the greatest superpower on the planet to force us out and it took hundreds of years of bloody wars to do that and only by expelling and massacring the overwhelming majority of us, and still we didn’t forget where our homeland is. That memory was so strong that it took a tiny moment of opportunity for us to be able to regain it. And, now, not even the greatest superpower would dare to even try because the world has changed. So, good luck with your approach. 🙂

            The Arabs that live here on the other hand had no ‘Palestinian identity’ until 1917 when the British showed up and the League of Nations set up a British mandate of Palestine. Almost all had no ‘Palestinian identity’ until it was invented in the late 1960s. Until 1917 they were Muslims or Christian subjects of the Ottomans and that is how they thought of themselves as per the Ottoman millet system. Between 1917 and the late 1960s (and for many later) they were Arabs living within boundaries artificially created by the British. For many, including such people as Azmi Bishara and the Balad party, they are still just Arabs that happened to wind up behind artificial borders, separated from their Arab brethren. The only real differentiation between them and their Arab brethren in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan is their persistent conflict against Israel and the unwillingness of their Arab brethren to absorb them.

            We have no remorse because we have come back to our homeland. Even those that acknowledge that the local Arabs have been harmed in the process have no remorse because once again they see it either as unfortunate or inevitable that there would be conflict as we return to our homeland.

            I am not going to reply to this thread anymore, so, go nuts..

            Reply to Comment
    2. Richard

      Sorry Urooj but the genetic studies disagree with you. Even Ashkanezim are about 1/2 Levantine. Maybe your failure to understand this kind of thing is why you’re going to Brooklyn Tech and not Stuyvesant.

      Reply to Comment
      • Urooj

        please do provide me with the sources of your genetic studies.. and 1/2 are descendants from what part of the levant?.. the Ashkenazim are not the same as the ancient hebrews.. and they have no right to displace the Palestinians who are also semites with closer ties to the land than European Jews.. Palestinians who have ancestry going back thousands of years to Philistines, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and the ancient Hebrews, Palestinians.. who’ve known no other land than Palestine.. so stop w/ ur continuous Zionist justifications which are illogical… you can’t deny that Israelis have displaced the true indigenous people of that land… many of whom are descendants of ancient Hebrews themselves.. so Zionism is anti-semitic in more ways than one..

        Reply to Comment
    3. Urooj

      please do provide me with the sources of your genetic studies.. and 1/2 are descendants from what part of the levant?.. and only 1/2? the hebrews are not the same as the Ashkenazim – where there have been studies to show that Ashkenazi are also descendants of Khazars… but of course there’s always a Zionist ready to say that’s anti-Semitic.. either way European Jews had no right to displace the Palestinians who are also semites with closer ties to the land than European Jews.. Palestinians who have ancestry going back thousands of years, who are descendants of Philistines, Canaanites, Phoenicians and the Ancient Hebrews themselves.. Palestinians, who’ve known no other land than Palestine.. so stop w/ ur continuous Zionist justifications which are illogical… you can’t deny that Israelis have displaced the true indigenous people of that land… many of whom are descendants of ancient Hebrews.. so Zionism is anti-semitic in more ways than one..

      the “i have possibly 1/24th Levantine blood in me” argument is also bullshit.. i might have mongolian blood in me.. does that mean i have a right to go and occupy and colonize Mongolia?… seeking refuge in Palestine was a way for many European Jews to escape the horrible realities of the holocaust and anti-semitism.. but Herzl’s decision to come up with this political ideology known as Zionism (which happened way before the Holocaust – during the beginning of the illegal aliyahs), was based on racist ideas, that displacing Palestinian Arabs would not be a problem.. he saw Western European Jews recognizing themselves as European more and more (during the late 1800s).. so he wanted to create something that would unite Jews across Europe to the detriment of Palestinian Arabs.. of course there was anti-jewish activity which justifies European jews fleeing for safety, but it does not justify them displacing other humans and in turn putting those humans into danger…

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard

      Urooj: I’m sorry you’ve been indoctrinated in such ferocious anti-Zionism, but your obsession with Israel is not going to end well for you because there are no right scientifically correct answers to the questions you think are important, and even if there were, you viewpoint ties itself in knots and moral contradictions. There are so many genetic studies on Jews that you can Google for them yourself – have fun. You’ll see that Jews are descended in large part from Middle Eastern peoples. Maybe 30%, maybe 50%, many 70% – doesn’t matter. From what part of the Levant? Nobody knows, and we can’t know what part of the Levant Palestinians descend from either. 2000 years ago, Turkey was inhabited by CELTIC PEOPLE, who now only live on the Western fringes of Europe. The movement of human beings in what was one the mandate of Palestine (a very small area) over the last 2000 years of wars and droughts and earthquakes is something nobody will every understand, so its pointless for you to claim that Palestinians have known no other land – Palestinians have ancestors from Arabia, from Kurdistan, from Mongolia, and from Europe. How “indigenous” to Palestine anyone is, based on their relationship to the population in antiquity is UNKNOWABLE. Maybe the 50% of Jewish lineage in Ashkenazi Jews is from Jerusalem and Palestinians descend mostly from ancestors in Lebanon or Jordan. The area is small and people moved around a lot. You should just stop trying to figure out who has ancient blood and who doesn’t. You can’t know and its weird and racist. Even if you could know, we live in 2014, not 1880. Israel exists and there are 6 million Jews there, who have some lineage there. You’re going to argue that a Palestinian in New York has the right to displace a Jew because she is more “indigenous” to Palestine even though she was born in the United States, because her ancestors 2000 years ago lived in the general area of the Levant (the most you could hope to prove)? Fine, ok. So you believe that people have national rights where they are “indigenous” – thats actually a really racist idea that suggests the United States, Singapore, South Africa, Brazil, and a lot of other countries shouldn’t exist, but let’s just say its legitimate. Your viewpoint leaves Jews with NO HOME. They were in Europe once, but they weren’t quite “indigenous” enough for the Europeans to not kill them there. Sorry Jews, you’re 50% Middle Eastern, so you’re not indigenous enough for Europe. Urooj we live in 2014 get it? 2014? What’s done is done. its not 1880 and Herzl is long dead. You can’t go back in time. You can’t stake a claim to Palestine based on your bloodline that has more science behind it than any random Ashkenazi Jew, and even if you could, your argument would be really racist compared to most nationalisms on our planet and also mean that Jews have no rightful place on planet earth. Is that really how you think? Because its very scary and sad if you do. Your history is also completely wrong but I don’t need to go there right now. Palestinians have never had a country, and there is no “historical” Palestine. The British created the Mandate using borders based on their WESTERN, CHRISTIAN understanding of Biblical ISRAEL. So the border of your hypothetical country come from the religious imagination of colonialists. Before then, for centuries there was nothing called Palestine and the land was divided between different Ottoman provinces. Seriously you need to get over this. You are an American whose ancestors lived somewhere else, like 99% of Americans. You don’t have a moral claim to Israel or even an argument for it that isn’t gross and weird and based on unscientific ideas about race. So just get on with your life.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      Here’s your link:
      Says that Samaritans and Jews are more closely related on the paternal side than Samaritans and Palestinians are. Probably because Arabs MEN invaded Palestine and married the local women. Nobody is 100% indigenous to Palestine. Jews and Palestinians are cousins with relatives in other parts of the world. So stop worrying about how ancient your blood is.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Tamara

      Richard wrote: “You’re going to argue that a Palestinian in New York has the right to displace a Jew because she is more “indigenous” to Palestine even though she was born in the United States, because her ancestors 2000 years ago lived in the general area of the Levant (the most you could hope to prove)?”

      So, Richard, you are saying that the Palestinian in the US does NOT have as much right to Palestine/Israel. But the Brooklyn born Jew does, right? He can fly to a settlement in Hebron, get Israeli citizenship and have all the rights an Israeli has, more rights than any Palestinian who already lives in the West Bank who has been there for centuries, and DEFINITELY more rights to the land than that Palestinian back in the US, right? Because, after all, the Brooklyn born Jew has ancestors who lived “in the general area of the Levant – the most you could hope to prove” 2000 years ago, right?

      Hypocrisy, Richard. Can you not see it?

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        Actually there is no hypocrisy Tamara. You missed the entire point of my argument, which is that nationalism can’t be legitimate if its just based on unscientific ideas about ancient races living in a particular place. I wouldn’t argue that Jews have a right to be Israeli citizens based on the pureness of their blood, and neither would most Jews. See now?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Victor Arajs

      It is instructive that Ms Sakaka doesnt fit in. She should return to her homeland and stop colonizing Palestine. Im sure the Poles resent the annual colonization of Auschwitz by Asskenazi Jews

      Reply to Comment
    8. CigarButNoNice

      The Mizrahim ARE now Israel’s story–they’re the majority of Israeli Jews in 2014. But you wouldn’t know it from the Western Left, who are hell-bent on keeping their yarn about Israel being a “white European settler state.”

      Boy, are the Leftists in for a rude awakening to the fact that White Guilt is no longer an operable lever for making the Jewish State capitulate to Arab imperialist demands…

      Reply to Comment
    9. TOMER

      This story is out of date by 35 years.
      Some 35% of israelis are of mixed Ashkenasi-Mizrahi origin. Their % in population rises each year.

      Old BS pretending to be Fresh BS!!

      Reply to Comment
    10. Roberto

      Even here in the comment section Adi, your story and experiences are trivialised, and you are again pushed into a corner for having your own feelings.

      Those making comments miss the point. This woman is describing her history, her feelings within a society that she felt excluded her and her family’s legacy, her existence and family’s history not being inclusive in the State narrative, etc.

      You are all on your high-horse ranting and raving about this and that and me, me and me and my opinion and how clever I am to your comment and you and zionism and anti-zionism….when in fact, we are ignoring Adi.

      Adi, I am listening.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        There is her private exclusion, and then there is the very public use thereof for the advancement of an entirely artificial identity created and propagated (and translated) for political reasons.

        We are not ignoring Adi. We are addressing precisely the point of her writings – to promote an artificial Mizrahi identity.

        Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        This comment is a joke I think.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Y,

      I wonder,if there actually was a ‘Mizrachi’ identity, shouldn’t it have included Libyan and Moroccan Jews who did suffer in the Holocaust?

      (And using the same argument as the author, do most American Jews who have no relatives who were in America pre-Ellis Island have no part in the American Revolution or Civil War narratives? How about recent migrants?).

      In short, her ‘argument’ makes no sense even on its own merits…

      Reply to Comment
    12. Average American

      At least the Mizrahi girls in the photo for the article are good looking and look like fun! Jewish girls are not, so go ahead and keep them in your protected in-bred closed gene pool.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gil Gamesh

        The Mizrahi girls in the photo are Jewish. Are you really that confused? You should change your moniker to below average american.

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Huh that’s funny, an article about Mizrahi girls showing a picture of Jewish girls? Dark Arab looking girls? Maybe there are some cute Jewish girls out there. Who knew.

          Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            I love it when folks who claim to be anti-Israeli not anti-Jewish slip up and reveal their true selves.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Just FYI, there is no such thing as ‘Arab looking’ since there is no such thing as ‘Arab ethnicity’. At most you can say about someone that he/she looks like a semite.

            Reply to Comment
    13. Noevil

      What a great presentation in the comments to support Adi’s story and feelings about the reality in Israel. Denial , ignorance and deception is the norm of the Jewish state blind supporters who wish to continue living in the victimhood mentality and the brain washed indoctrination to the European ,white man Zionist Hasbara . Asi, please forgive them as they can’t see, nor hear but their own misery of isolation . In spit of all ,you and many humans whom happen to be of the Middle Eastern origin , are still better humans not because of your race, but because of your experience and humanity.

      Reply to Comment
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