Sunday, May 04, 2008

Who are we exactly? ask Iraqi Jews in Israel

Iraqi Jews in Israel took a long, hard look at themselves in the first ever academic conference on the topic held at Tel Aviv University at the end of April. Here is a summary of a Haaretz report (with thanks: Linda):

The first academic conference of its kind examining the integration of Iraqi Jewry in Israel was held over two days last week at Tel Aviv University. The conference sought to define the Iraqi Jew’s identity: was it ‘Iraqi-Israeli’, ’Arab Jew’ or ‘Mizrahi’ (oriental)? The head of the Academic organizing committee was Sasson Somekh, emeritus professor of Arabic literature at the university.

Dr Uri Cohen, initiator and producer of the conference, said that the idea to hold the conference came up to him after attending a conference at the Van Leer Institute about the Yekim (Jews from Germany).

Dr. Sylvia Kedourie from London was the only guest speaker from abroad. The subject of her talk was 'The savage separation: the Jews of Iraq.'

Esther Meir-Glitztein of Ben Gurion University said that of all the Mizrahi communities the Iraqi Jews were the most successful and middle class. This was partly because they had good schools in Iraq, and partly because they had refused to live on the periphery of the country, but settled in the Tel Aviv area. Moroccan and Yemenite Jews were subsequently sent to border development towns.

Professor Habiba Fidaya ( the granddaughter of Rabbi Yehuda Ftaya), a poet and researcher into modern Jewish culture from Beersheva University, objected to all communities being lumped together as ‘Mizrahim’, which happens whenever there is oppression. They have different voices and channels, just like the different voices on the panel which makes it hard to define what is specifically Iraqi. Yet she explained that she can live with the cultural space being defined as Iraqi since it includes folklore, music, food etc .

Professor Sami Smooha, a sociologist from Haifa University and candidate for the Israel Prize, said that he did not care much about this dichotomy of identity, but is deeply concerned about the growing gap between the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi community in Israel.

The discussion ranged over the Israeli-Arab-Jewish-Iraqi identity controversy. One person said he did not consider himself Iraqi, but from Iraq. Another man got up and said: ” I was born in Prague. But after two days of conference on the Iraqis I too miss Baghdad.”

Read article in full (Hebrew)

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