POC Profile: Jewish Middle Eastern from Israel
I was born in Israel and moved to the United States later on. I’m of Yemen, Egyptian and Syrian descent but am 100% Mizrachi Jewish. My family all moved into Israel in or right after World War II, having gone through its affects in context of the Middle East. I am bilingual (Hebrew and English) so I may also point out some bilingual experiences.
I see a lot of talk about Ashkenazi (European) Jews and the Arabic/Muslim community in the Middle East, but barely see any information about Mizrachi Jews (which is a huge ethnicity).
Culture/Holidays: Even though Mizrachi Jewish culture is very similar to its surrounding Middle Eastern community it’s also extremely different. Because Jews were segregated from Muslim (and other goy religions) neighborhoods they grew their own cultures and traditions, and because they were far away from their Ashkenazi sisters the holidays are celebrated differently. Some even created new holidays! A good example of this is Mimuna, a Moroccan-Jewish holiday celebrating the finish of the intense Kosher within the Passover season. I’ve noticed that in my Grandma’s Yemen household we celebrate holidays differently than in my Ashkenazi friend’s households (also extremely differently than in American Jewish households). We read different parts of Magalas, sing different songs, and if we do sing the same songs they are probably set in different tunes. Simply, search up traditions for the specific area you’re writing about, because chances are they celebrate it differently than most Jews you see in the USA (or any European country) do.
Food: You know how people make jokes about white people food being bland? It’s the same in the Jewish community. Food is very different within the Jewish community. You heard of kugel? That’s an Ashkenazi food. So is defiltefish and chunt and matzabre (although matzabre does have a Yemeni equivalent called ftut where you soak the matza instead of fry it). Middle Eastern Jewish food is amazing! Although I can mostly only tell you about Yemen food, it’s such a great area to explore. Yemeni Jewish food is very filling and has a lot of dough based recipes (such as jachnun and malauach), and has amazing spice and sauces like schug and chilbe. A lot of the food is also pita based (the cuisine very rarely involve bread). And Just like how the shnitzel snuck into Ashkenazi food, goy Middle Eastern food became a common in the Mizrachi community, like shwarma, falafel and shakshuka.
In Israel there are some really common food differences than in the USA. Falafel is the common street food (similar to getting one of those ham and egg bagels in a coffee shop in an inner city area in the USA). Almost every house is equipped with pita, and bread is of higher level than the usual pre-cut soft white bread that is found in Supermarkets in the USA. The Mizrachi and Ashkenazi cuisine gets really mixed (such as having Ashkenazi defiltefish with Yemeni chilbe as a spice) and there are some stables that everybody eats (like shnitzel with ptitim or spaghetti).
History: The main thing I want to say here is that yes, the Mizrachi community was affected by WWII. Just like with Trump, when a powerful nation f**** up, the whole world feels it. The Holocaust was not exclusive to Europe. The Mizrachi community was hunted for literally thousands of years in the Middle East (seriously, that’s what many of our holidays are about) and it absolutely did not end until we were able to move out. My Yemeni grandmother had to run away from Yemen and walk the whole way through Saudi Arabia to get to Israel because their community was being murdered in masses, the Jewish community in Yemen is practically extinct, everybody who could moved to Israel. My grandfather in Egypt faced the same causes to move into Israel, even though his family was powerful in Cairo back then they left all their belongings when his uncle was killed on the street by an anti-Semitic riot.
Identity Issues: Back in Israel my identity wasn’t an issue for me. I was Jewish (like everybody) and Mizrachi (like many). But when I moved to the USA it was different. All the Jews here were Ashkenazi (except for the small Sephardi community) and none of the Middle Eastern community here was Jewish. They barely even thought it existed. I still have people who are shocked when I say I’m a Mizrachi Jew, because they thought that Judaism was almost exclusively a white religion. Which I can’t blame them for when that’s all they see around them. But it’s still a problem. Middle Eastern meetups commonly wouldn’t accept me as a Middle Eastern person, and even more so shunned me for being Israeli even though I’m not anti-Palestine. I would still go to meetups like this even though I was commonly called a terrorist or would have to deal with anti-Semitism, because even though I was the only Jew there, these people still dealt with similar problems to which I did living in this which supremacist nation - I felt closer to them than I did to Ashkenazi Jews (and unlike in Ashkenazi communities I was not treated as a token POC). I stopped going when my mom banned me from such meetings, because someone in the group threatened to hurt me. I’m not saying it’s not okay to be disgusted by Israels actions against the Arabic community around it (I am too), I’m just saying that shunning me from that community when I had no other community to go to because of something I could not and did not have any say in was not the right answer in my opinion.
Language: One aspect that the Ashkenazi and Mizrachi community have in common is the Holy language, Hebrew. In Israel that’s the main language that is spoken, other than minor communities who speak Arabic or Ultra-Orthodox communities who speak Yiddish. Still, the communities were separated for so many years that there are many alternate pronunciations and accents. As you may have noticed in the food section, Ashkenazi food names are a lot more European, while Mizrachi names are a lot closer to Arabic and other Semitic languages.
Misconceptions: Judaism is not a white religion! That is not to say that Ashkenazi Jews aren’t white, but saying that Judaism is a white religion cuts POC Jews (or JOC? I’ve never seen that in use) out of their goy communities. Judaism is found all around the world, there are Latinx Jews, East Asian Jews, African Jews, Hispanic Jews, and Middle Eastern Jews. The only place I would be shocked to find a Jewish Ethnicity in would be Native American tribes. Also on a different note, bilinguals do mix up languages. I see bilingual people shunning monolingual authors for having characters accidentally answer in the wrong language, saying “whoops! I was thinking in my /other language/!” But I do this so commonly that my friends joke that I’m a badly written bilingual character. I’m just saying that the bilingual experience is vast, and not everybody thinks the same.
Things I’d like to see less of/Stereotypes I’m tired of seeing: Every Jewish family being written like the Maus family. All of them are white German Jews who’s family suffered through the Holocaust. Don’t get me wrong, Holocaust survivor’s stories are so so important. But all the Jews I see in media are Jewish studies professors in the upper middle class suburban area who adopted a kid of a different race and made them hilariously Jewish in an out of place way. It’s so boring. And nonrepresentational. Please stop creating stereotypical cookie-cut Jews. Also the idea that Jews are the extreme end of being white, where Jews can’t even start to understand people of color, or white Jews marking themselves as people of color.
Things I’d like to see more of: More Mizrachi Jews! I’m telling you this is such a rad community, and it is barely explored in literature. Once when I tried to find any books or studies about Yemeni Jews in English, and all I found was one book about Yemeni-American second generation girls in Michigan (it’s called “All American Yemeni Girls” by Loukia K. Sarroub, and is an amazing study you should read). All I found was this one book! This tells me that both the Middle Eastern and Mizrachi communities are lacking in literature.
Please just consider integrating different Jewish communities into your story if possible.
Great post! I just wanted to add a note that I’ve seen a Native+Jewish blogger on Tumblr; I’m not sure if there was a conversion or intermarriage at some point but I would hate for that one blogger (whose URL escapes me at the moment) to feel erased. Another note about the bilingual thing: it is VERY, VERY important for people writing bilingual characters to understand that different languages treat their bilingual speakers different ways. The ways Yiddish sneaks into English are different from the ways Spanish sneaks into English and both are different from the way Mandarin sneaks into English. Don’t extrapolate the Yiddish-inflected English from TV sitcom Ashkies as the way Spanglish works, for example. This post is a testimonial as to why.
Third, lol: “All of them are white German Jews who’s family suffered through the Holocaust.” it me, so thank you for contributing this post so that my voice isn’t the only one on here. We all really appreciate it.