Friday, February 20, 2009

An Arab Jew.

My first husband's family is mixed; originally his father's family came from the Isle of Rhodes, they're Sephardic (Spanish, Greek, Middle-Eastern Jewry), while his mother's family is Ashkenaz (European Jews). Some of their family traditions for practicing Judaism are more Sephardic, others Ashkenaz. The recipe I learned for gefilte fish is definitely Sephardic! There's no boiling in broth, instead you fry the fish patties and then bake in tomato sauce. I never thought the only model for Judaism was the one in the movies Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl.

But I hadn't actually read anything from an Arab Jew. Not a convert, not the child of a mixed marriage, but a woman from a long line of Jews who also are Arabs, who lived in the Middle East all along.

As an Arab Jew, I am often obliged to explain the "mysteries" of this oxymoronic entity. That we have spoken Arabic, not Yiddish; that for millennia our cultural creativity, secular and religious, had been largely articulated in Arabic (Maimonides being one of the few intellectuals to "make it" into the consciousness of the West); and that even the most religious of our communities in the Middle East and North Africa never expressed themselves in Yiddish-accented Hebrew prayers, nor did they practice liturgical-gestural norms and sartorial codes favoring the dark colors of centuries-ago Poland. Middle Eastern women similarly never wore wigs; their hair covers, if worn, consisted of different variations on regional clothing (and in the wake of British and French imperialism, many wore Western-style clothes). If you go to our synagogues, even in New York, Montreal, Paris or London, you'll be amazed to hear the winding quarter tones of our music which the uninitiated might imagine to be coming from a mosque.
The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries. As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one's political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports.

She goes on to point out the discrimination within Israel against the Arab Jews and suggests looking past the artificial binary distinctions that not only reduce the region to Israel/Palestine but also oversimplify the issues.

Hat tip Alas, a blog.

1 comment:

Laura Back said...

This is a great article. Thank you so much for passing it on!