To all my Ashkenazi Jews, I as a darker skinned Yemenite Jew living as a minority within our community in America, am bringing to light the microaggressions, oppression and the disregard of non- Ashkenazi Jews especially those of color like myself, through your privilege as part of the dominant white people in this country. This may seem mean ranting, but rather I am enlightening a group that might not always be aware of their privileges. As much as there are some sephardic/Mizrachi Jews that are white passing, I will be only focusing on Ashkenazi Jews.

Before the 20th century, Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jews), Sephardic (North African Jews) and the rest of world Jewry of the world, Ashkenazim (European Jews) have been separated from each other for centuries. While Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews have kept their traditions, and were at peace with their muslim and arab neighbors, it was only until the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews, did the Israeli nation have a intra racial problem against its Arab Jews and Muslims. The Israeli conflict only really started in Israel when the Israeli government was constructed with including only Ashkenazi Jews and not having in mind Mizrachi, Sephardic, Palestinians etc.

When the arrival of the Arab Jews to Israel, Arab Jews were given less privileges, and resources than their white Jewish neighbors and encoutered vicious racism. My grandparents came from towns Taiz, and Hadad in Yemen, came to Israel by plane and boat through the “project wings of eagles” in the 1950s. When my family arrived, many of their family were split from each other due to the Israeli government trying to secularize the arrival of Mizrahi Jews. My family was fortunate to establish their lives and maintain their traditions in Rosh Haayin, a predominantly Yemenite Jewish city. But unfortunately for some of my relatives they have been separated from their siblings by the Israeli government, and some of their kids were taken from them, as to what is now called the Yemenite Baby Tragedy affair, where 2000 yemenite babies were taken from their parents, and sold off to Ashkenazi families in Europe. In the 1960s the Israeli Black panthers rose, due to the intra racism, intersectionality of Mizrachi identity, and lack of housing and other resources which were given to Jews of European descent even after two decades of the arrival of Mizrahi Jews.

I grew up in the Lower East Side of New York City, as the only Mizrachi Jewish kid, from a low socioeconomic background, in a white, upper class, orthodox Jewish neighborhood. I was always told by my mother, that my Ashkenazi neighbors were “my people” when I was marginalized for my culture, class, language, and on top of that my sexuality and gender. I internalize for a long time that I don’t belong in this Jewish community, because my face, identity, and culture does not matter. I also knew that I was a minority in this country as a person of color, trans/gay person, Arab. and lastly  Jew. Back in the year 2000, Less than 2% of American Jews are of Mizrachi heritage according to the 2000 U.S census, today the number is close to 2%.

I always wondered and asked my mother, why don’t our neighbors eat, look, talk, pray, and act like us. I spoke Hebrew and bits of Arabic with my mother, I ate Kubaneh, Zilabia and Jahnun on Shabbat when my neighbors ate herring and gefilte fish. We prayed Edot Hamizrach the Shammi sect, while my neighbors prayed Nusach Sefard and on top of all this I was not privileged to come from a wealthy family, and have two parents in the same home. All my years in Jewish day school, I felt my history did not matter. On top of that I was asked by both Jews and Non, wheather I am really Jewish? Being Jewish is seen as being white, we were once all dark skinned Jews living in Arabia, and as the majority of Jews (Ashkenazim) assimiliated and intermarried into European society, the attention of Jews is given to Ashkenazim because of their privlege having access to western societies which covered their naarative first. Whenever I attended Israeli History courses, the narrative was always Ashkenazi Jews came first to Israel, and rescued the Arabs Jews from our troubles. This notion of white saving is oppressive to Arab Jews, that we must owe our lives to Ashkenazi Jews. I also learned later that Sefardic/Mizrachi Jews came and established themselves in Israel for centuries before the arrival of their Ashkenazi counterparts. I was always used to be told that Yemenite Jews came at first in 1950s, when in fact there was a huge migration in 1880 according to Prof. Reuben Aharoni (Yemenite Jew) at Ohio State University.

In all my years through the Modern Orthodox Jewish schools system, I always had to learn about Ashkenazi Jews in Jewish History courses. Whenever anyone else was mentioned, it was only referenced to the Rambam, or Raban which is acknowledged by Ashkenazi Orthodox circles. My teachers were also miseducated in assuming there are only two types of Jews, Sefardim and Ashkenazim, and even including Yemenite Jews as Sephardim, when Yemenites have their own entity. I took AP studies courses in Jewish History and Holocaust Studies in High School, and my narrative was never mentioned, and if anything Sefardic Jews were mentioned slightly, not my history either. To be told by my mother, rabbis and teachers that this our history and I must remember it, I want to know why my narrative is never placed at the same level as Ashkenazim. I never hear Ashkenazi Jews trying to learn Temani, Sefardic/Mizrachi culture or History. When we talk about the history of oppression of Jews, the entire focus is given to Ashkenazim whether it was the Holocaust, pogroms, cossacks etc, as if Sefardic Jews were not systematically killed like in parts of greece where the majority were wiped out during the holocaust. All the “Heritage trips” including birthright that I have taken, whether to Poland, Yad Vashem, etc is always focused on the history of Ashkenazi Jews. As much as I am hurt, and pained by what happened to Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, why should I be forced to learn about one part of Jews, and my white Jewish friends are not required to learn about my/their other half. I am also in the midst of writing a letter to the executives of Birthright/Taglit to make sure that ALL trips have an education on Non Ashkenazi Jews, that even Tom from wika wika, Ohio who has no Jewish background, can know that we don’t all eat bagel and lox, and listen to Klezmer music.

As a MIA (Mizrachi in America) or as someone Missing in Action, my identity is clearly underrepresented in mainstream American Jewish culture. Whenever people outside of my community find out I am Jewish, they are shock, because I am not white. I am usually seen and stereotyped as Latino and I encounter a lot of microaggressions as someone who is Arab and is also seen as Latino is this country. For most Ashkenazi Jews, who are white, they do not ever have to encounter or experience racism as their darker skinned fellow Jews. Growing up it was always hard for me to find role models in our society, because most of what was being represented in the media were of white people. Whenever Jews were mentioned, there was always reference of yiddish culture, and people  like Tony Kushner, Lainine Kazan, Woody Allen, Mayim Bialik , etc which none of these people although they are Jewish, include or represent me. But when you live in a white society where people of color and especially Mizrachim are not being represented, for years you internalize that your color, culture, language, ethnicity, race, and more is inferior to your white peers. As one of the only non Ashkenazi kids in my middle school at Manhattan Day School, I was aware years later how much I internalized colorism being one of the only darker skinned kids from a poor background compared to my white privileged classmates. I believed I was ugly, stupid, slow etc and “white is bright, and black is in the back.” I am still undoing a lot of my internalized racism, colorism, and more that I convinced myself for years in white Jewish spaces.

When I am in Israel and I take buses from Jerusalem to the central area, when we pass checkpoints, I am one of the only people stopped and asked questions on the bus by the Israeli soldiers, even with my kippah on. Whenever I go to spaces where there are a lot of Ashkenazi orthodox people, like in Bnai Brak, I and my dark skinned relatives get stares, and mocked. Most of my family lives in Israel. My mother is one of 15 children, and most of them are ultra orthodox. It pains me when I hear my cousins, internalizing their identity, by wanting to marry into a Ashkenazi family, or get into a Ashkenazi “better” seminary/yeshiva because the Israeli government and the orthodox world, funds more the Ashkenazi schools, while sephardim and mizrahim are not receiving an equal education.

When it comes to Ashkenazi privilege in Israel there is a whole list of problems. First off, having grown up in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, I know how much the majority attention is given to the Ashkenazi gedolim. In Israel the rabbis everyone are talking about and are recognized are the Ashkenazi ones, no one cares about the non Ashkenazi ones, maybe the Ovadia, Abuchatzeira, Machpud, Amar and a few other families.Having gone to Yeshiva, after high school, I know that even in English speaking yeshivas, the funding, support, and resources for the Ashkenazi Jews are much higher than for the Sefardic Jews, and I am talking about a yeshiva that holds both parties. I went to a Yeshiva that had the highest amount of Sefardic/Mizrachi Jews of any American yeshiva, and yet the access to education was not the same. The Ashkenazi Jews in our yeshiva, would exorcise my rabbis, and appropriate our culture, by assuming we all shout/sing like hoodlums, and making terrorists and brown skin jokes.

For as long as the Modern state of Israel has existed, there has not been ONE single Prime Minister of Non- Ashkenazi Descent, and there has only been ONE President who was Non Ashkenazi which was Moshe Katsav (Iranian) 2000-2007, but whenever people see him as the Sephardic President, there is a stigma because of being convicted of two counts of rape. Unlike America and it’s Jews where Non Ashkenazim are the minority, in Israel where in the country 60% of it’s Jews are Mizrachi, the power of the country is in the white/Ashkenazi population as seen in our racist, capitalistic American society. Anyone who denies the reality of privlege Ashkenazi white Jews have in Israel and America is living under the rock. In all of America’s years of existence just now had it’s first Non- white President

In my Israeli Cinema class at Hunter College, I am one of the only Non- White/Ashkenazi Jews in my class and the teacher also being of Ashkenazi descent, and I am amazed by the amount of sensationalism there is in the air about the Mizrachi experience of oppression. As much as I love Prof. Kubovy, I do have to disagree with her on some things, because she does not experiece it for herself. She once told the class that there is a myth that Mizrachi activists and academics like Ellah Shohat at NYU, likes to get riled up about, in terms of Mizrachim being percieved as inferior to Ashkenazim in Israeli Cinema. She tried to prove her point, after watching an old racist movie of Mizrachi Jews, such as 1964 “Shalach Shabbati” starred by Chaim Topol who is known for his role in Fiddler on the roof, where in this movie he exaggerates and stereotypes a Yemenite Jewish family. I have seen this movie once in my Modern Orthodox day school (MDS), where I was not aware of how much I internalized my identity, by laughing with my other Ashkenazi classmates of the stupidity of the Yemenite family compared to the etiquette of the Ashkenazi Kibbutzim. I was shocked by how my professor was blind to the racism, stereotypes, and generalizations that were made constantly about this Yemenite family. In Israeli Cinema like American Cinema, the white male is usually the protagonist of the show, who we are supposed to admire, and sympathize with. In the case of Shalach Shabbti the one acclaimed Israeli movie that made international success for it’s “comedy” the Yemenite protagonist is a degenerate, idiot, wayward, unhygienic, abusive, sexist, close minded and more. As a media and communication arts major with a concentration in gender, race, and sexuality, I know how to analyize films well, and how the portrayal of certain identities in the media, is what we transfer to the real world.

While I was on birthright, back in the summer of 2014, most of the soldiers protecting us on our trip were of Mizrachi heritage. I became really good friends with a guy named Maor Abergel, and I was interested to know his plans after army. The more I heard about his career plans, I was excited for him, until I heard him say he wanted to switch his name to Friedman, like his other Mizrachi friends. I asked, why do you need to hide who you are and change your name. He told me that unfortunately in Israel, people with Ashkenazi sounding last names have access to better Jobs than Non Ashkenazi last names. This reality is true in America, where a lot of people especially of African descent have to change their names to be accepted in society. Maor also told me his name is usually perceived as being associated with the famous notorious Morrocan gangsters in Israel “The Abergel Family” . It really pained me that this young, intelligent, good looking, Moroccan guy, that is charming would have trouble getting a job on the basis of his last name. When I hear people say that Sefardic/Mizrachi names are too hard to pronounce, and needs to be changed, which what they are really saying to make it easy to accommodate them, this is a form of microaggression that I and others have to encounter. I don’t tell the Yoselovsky, and, Leibobovinowitz, and Chaim, Perel Berrelowitz that they should change their name to fit my needs, so why is there not a common respect.

We all know that African Americans have and still eat dirt in America for all the years of racism, slavery, oppression, torture, and how our capitalistic society was founded with the intent of displacing non white people, which is still true to today. I would like to see people with privilege like my fellow Ashkenazi white Jews to have empathy, and carry within them the desire to fight for their Non white Jewish peers so that their narrative, identity, and background matters, is heard, respected, and represented just as equally to them.

Now with all of this writing, you are probably thinking, this person is a Ashkenazi hater, and just wants to rant about how he was discriminated here and there, and now we have to feel guilty. I am writing this article, because for years I was socially pressured to be silent. Whether I was in Pro Israel spaces and there was a lot of Anti- Arab sentiment in the air, as if Mizrahim are not Arab, or just being the token person of color in white Jewish spaces, I felt no one would listen and I would be rejected. But I got to the point that I realized as gay artists in 1987s have said “Silence = Death”, and the only way to progress is to educate the masses even the dominant powers. All that I mentioned above, is only a fraction of microaggressions, discrimination, oppression and other forms of struggle that Non Ashkenazi/white Jews go through, and how much privilege and advantages Ashkenazi Jews have by just not even enduring what their darker skinned Jews do encounter. I am hoping that this article and my future efforts will enlighten people of privilege to be aware of how they conduct themselves to not oppress people born with less privileges.

Source: blogs.timesofisrael.com

By: Eiron Mizrachi

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