QUESTION: Did you know that among the Jewish people there are different ethnicities?
ANSWER: Yes, Jews from different parts of the world have developed distinct cultures and customs, with different languages and skin color.
1. Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe are known as “Ashkenazim”. The Jews of America are mostly of this group that has made the Yiddish language, matza balls and black hats familiar to us. Ashkenazy Jews were the first to return to Palestine and whose leaders are well-known, such as Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion.
2. Jews from Spain are known as “Sephardim”. Then when they were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, they fled to other parts of the world.
3. Jews from North Africa and the Middle East (even India) are called Mizrahim. They hail from such countries as Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Morocco. Their Jewish communities are probably the very oldest, dating back to the Babylonian exile in Jeremiah’s time.
The Mizrahim are the ones who have our attention here. Without a European education their way of life was not as refined. They spoke Arabic, Persian, Kurdish and other languages. Most lived under Muslim rule since the Islamic takeover in the 7th century A. D., some in relative peace, but many living as 2nd or 3rd class citizens.
The Mizrahi Jews Expelled
In the 20th century these Jews, though they were thoroughly assimilated into their societies, experienced an increase in harassment especially when the Jewish nation was being formed in Palestine. Their adopted nations in which they had lived so long, became furious that Palestine would be opened to the Jews of the world.
And few Americans and Europeans heard about their plight.
The great fires of intended annihilation of the Jews was transpiring in Europe, making those Jews who were against Zionism--against the return to their homeland--change their minds.
Arab leaders conspired with the Nazis to annihilate the Mizrahi Jews. After the United Nations voted to recognize Israel as a nation in 1947, many Mizrahim (plural) were massacred in government-sponsored rioting. Yet, some of these governments made it a crime for the Jews to leave! Many who tried to escape were hunted down and tortured in prisons.
Those who decided to leave, or were forced to leave, their adopted countries sacrificed all they had, knowing that the emigration officials would take all their possessions and money. So they left as paupers—850,000 of them—and fled, some to America, but most to Israel.
For the new State of Israel, this created problems. The Jewish Agency which was in charge of immigration balked at taking in so many at one time. I get the feeling that they hadn’t considered beforetime the possibility of all these Mizrahi brothers and sisters moving in to their native land.
But, someone WAS thinking of them. The Lord who called Israel into existence was calling the Mizrahis as well as the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. Yes, the Mizrahis were a lower-class people, but…they were loved by the God Who had chosen His people.
God was calling as the nations were expelling. And these precious Mizrahim were chosen to bring THEIR own special style and abilities to mix with the rest of the Jews.
But the Mizrahi are from Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia—many from big cities like Bagdad, Aleppo and Casablanca. They are good storytellers and have a special kind of music to share. They are people of color, literally and figuratively.
Israel’s story is that she welcomes all Jews from the ends of the earth. But at certain times after her independence, she was a poor nation and therefore could not admit all the Jews wanting to immigrate.
Then, as Wikipedia reports, Mizrahi immigrants and refugees were placed in rudimentary and hastily-erected tent cities, often in development towns on the peripheries of Israel. Many had to live in cooperative farming villages even if they knew nothing of farming. They brought with them their more lowly culture and customs and spoke Arabic.
QUESTION: Is there “racial discrimination” in the State of Israel today?
ANSWER: For decades there has been segregation and some discrimination—yes, against the Mizrahi. That’s not a well-kept secret. But things are changing for the good—changing through acceptance, intermarriage and sharing the workplace.
Yes, in Israel, there have been difficulties in accepting this lower class of Jewishness.
But it is happening.
God has called them, though they are different, one ethnic type from the other—the Ashkenazi, Sephardim and the Mizrahi. He has called all His chosen people from 100 nations including some tiny islands of the seas—called them home.
But you, Israel my servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend,
You whom I took from the ends of the earth
And called from its farthest corners,
saying to you: ‘You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off…’
-- Isaiah 41:8-10 (ESV)
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