(members of the Israeli Black Panther Party protesting for sephardi/mizrachi equality in the 70s)
As Americans who profess support for Israel, we may attend pro-Israel events and learn about Israel’s history and politics, but even as we do so, we understandably remain surrounded by other Americans and American culture. Living on the other side of the world, it can be easy to lose a sense of the people that actually live in Israel, the Hebrew language they speak, and the general culture they live in. The Israel I’d gotten to know through speakers, simulations, and the windows of tour buses on American Israel programs was exactly the same place I found last August when I began a post-high school year of study at Midreshet Ein Hanatziv, an Israeli women’s religious seminary on a kibbutz in north of the country. The Israel of historical sites and museums seemed like a different country than the land one in which my Israeli peers and new friends lead their everyday lives. Just getting to know and spending time with the girls in the midrasha (seminary) over the last six months, has made Israel a more personal, real place for me.
One aspect of Israeli society that can best be learned about by talking to Israelis is Israel’s different ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups and how they view one another. Even though Israel is an 80% Jewish society, distinctions within that Jewish population- not to mention Arabs and other minorities- can give rise to significant divisiveness and prejudice that as in many societies, goes hand-in-hand with inferior economic opportunities. For example, my roommate Zehavit, whose parents made aliyah from Iran, does not like to be associated with other Persians. She looks down on most “Parsim” and “Mizrachim,” because she sees them as poor, lazy “Arsim” and “Frechot,” an Israeli sub-culture, which would be parallel to `rednecks‘ `ginos or `greasers,’ usually Sephardic Jews of Moroccan, Persian or Yemenite descent. Zehavit sees these people, as well as other groups like Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, as not even trying to get a good education and elite jobs in the army, succeed, and move up the Ashkenazic (term describing “white” Jews of mostly French, German, or Eastern European descent) socioeconomic ladder. Of course, these generalizations, like all stereotypes, are not at all true across the board for any given individual. But they reflect the reality that while Israel is a national homeland for every Jew in the world, it has yet to become a land of equal opportunity and appreciation for all types of Jews.
For more infomation, check out these two articles:
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