News & Views from Ivri-NASAWI
Week of August 21, 2000
- New Sephardi/Mizrahi Center
- Who Gets To Tell a Mizrahi Story?
- Both Arab & Jew, 1 & 2
- Egyptian Roots
- Single Syrian Jewish Female
- Reader & Listener's Guide
- Calendar of Upcoming Events & Meetings
- Insider info
A new matrix in the form of a Sephardi/Mizrahi cultural center has been announced by a coalition of activists in both Los Angeles and New York. The proposed center is intended to become a hub for contemporary arts and culture, as well as an institute that will frame the fascinating yet less-known chapters of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewish history. Additionally, a major new oral history project, the Endowment for Sephardic Stories (ESS), will record the stories of immigration and exile of such venerable Jewish communities as those of Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia and Morocco. According to activists in the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities, there is an urgent need to support the rich diversity of the Sephardi/Mizrahi experience.
The center will nurture a younger generation of creative thinkers, who are struggling to articulate their identities as both Americans and Jewish descendants of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin.
click here to read the complete article
by Jordan Elgrably
It will be clear even to the most restless student of history that the white majority, or those in power, have always spoken for themselves, and have written history as they see fit. Minority cultures, on the other hand, have invariably been engaged in the struggle for representation. In the 19th century, Native, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans were still relegated to the footnotes of history, their cultures and accomplishments minimized, their presence as valuable contributors to society often made invisible.1
Only in the post-WWII period did writers from these cultures begin to come into their own and gain prominence; indeed, it wasnít until the 1950s and ë60s that such authors had best-selling works. Even today, as we know, these minorities are demanding equal political representation as well as equitable representation in the entertainment industry.
Meanwhile, Jewish culture and identity has, for the better part of the past 500 years, been viewed through the prism of the West. After the dominant Sephardi population of Spain went into exile following the Expulsion of 1492, the Ashkenazi population exploded. Our written history reflects what is a Eurocentric bias, for in Israeli, Western European and American history books, the cultures of the Levant and the Middle East are usually described in Orientalist fashion.2
click here to read the complete article
Both Arab and Jew
by Herbert Hadad
As a boy, I labored over a strange book. The cover was green and the frontispiece was a photograph of King Farouk of Egypt in a fez. On succeeding pages were drawings of children and goats and palm trees and hundreds of squiggles. As hard as I tried, I could not make sense of them. After a while, even though Iíd urged my dad to get me the book, we agreed to put it aside. But I carried it into adulthood. It is a kindergarten-age primer of the Arabic language. It has taken on the properties of a family heirloom, an amulet. As a married man, when we moved from one house to another, I made sure we took the book.
One recent day, my daughter asked, "How do you say 'Kelly' in Arabic?" I understood instinctively. Sara is four and one-half years old, Kelly is her classmate and the question meant that the green book had attracted interest again.
Forty generations ago, as legend has it, my Syrian ancestors held two great devotions: Judaism and Arab culture. When my father emigrated to the United States, he brought them with him and adapted as best he could. Though an exotic among his brethren of European background, he is dedicated to his religion, and he remains faithful to his Arab upbringing, which he holds dear and separate from current politics of the Middle East.
When my sister and brother and I were growing up, a sneeze always brought forth a spirited "T-aish!" ("To life!î") from father; a moment of choking on a morsel of food, a heartfelt appeal to GodóìAllahîóeven if it wasnít the same God he talked to in temple.
If I needed convincing of Saraís interest, her second question, childlike and profound, provided it: "How do you say 'Allah' in Arabic?"
She was to be the only one of our three childrenóas Iíd been the only one of threeóto respond to the lure. The evenings with the green book and my dad had planted the seed. Several times over the years, I tried to comprehend the squiggles, bring them to life and finally I began to succeed.
When I was able to converse a bit, I telephoned my father, "Sah-bach al-hare. Kif-ha-lek? Ach-a-lahn wa sach-a-lahn"("Good morning. How are you? Welcome.") The last phrase was senseless in context but the longest I'd mastered. Then I tried my writing skills on him. Back came a very diplomatic disapprobation; every word Iíd written was rewritten. With this distinguishing grounding, I began the lesson with Sara. We started with the number one: "Wa-hed, like a baby crying 'waaaa' and the word head"ópointing to mineó"and you put them together and you have wa-hed." We went all the way to 10ó"ah-sha-rah," which especially pleased her. I knew why: It was long and strange and fun to say, like ach-a-lahn wa sach-a-lahn.
I dug out my modern Arabic textbooks and audio tapes and played a few lessons. I told Sara how to say 'Kelly' in Arabicóitís the same as in Englishóand that 'Allah' is Arabic. "And here's another important word you can use many times every dayó"shuk-ruhn"ówhich means 'thank you.'" Her huge brown eyes told me Iíd been caught sneaking a lesson in manners into an Arabic lesson, so we called it a day.
A few days later, still aglow from Saraís declaration of interest, I asked her to say "10" in Arabic. She grinned, scrunched up her shoulders and was silent. I urged her to try. She looked up and said, "Osh-kosh b-gosh." I laughed, but I was hurt.
She did not ask again to see the Arabic text or hear the tapes, but I took comfort that the seed had been planted. Long after the lesson, on a Saturday morning as I lay in bed getting the first luxurious rest of the week, the door burst open. The children have been taught to knock, so the noise and rudeness infuriated me. ìWhatís going on here?î I hollered.
"Ah-sha-rah, daddy, ahsharah,"answered a soft, sweet voice.
Herbert Hadad, a NASAWI member living in New York, is an award-winning freelance writer and press officer for the U.S. Department of Justice. His essays have appeared in several national and regional publications. Further Mizrahi reminiscences appear in the anthology, Sephardic American Voices: Two Hundred Years of a Literary Legacy (Brandeis/ University Press of New England, 1996).
Reprinted from the New York Times with the authorís permission.
Both Arab and Jew, Part 2
by Sara Jameel Hadad
August 2, 1985 marks an important event in my life. That is the date my name appeared in the New York TimesOp-Ed piece written by my father. The story was centered on my rudimentary learnings of the Arabic language. At the age of four or five, it may seem unusual for me to have been reciting numbers in Arabic, even more so because I am Jewish.
My grandfather was born in Beirut, Lebanon; his family had originated in Aleppo, Syria, eight hundred years earlier. My grandfather came to the United States in 1918 at the age of thirteen after his parents and sister died in the influenza epidemic. He eventually settled in Boston, and this is where my memories of visits to my grandparents began. It was a four-hour trip, but my mother recalls it as eight, especially with three bickering children in the back seat. We were always greeted with a traditional Arab meal, along with hugs and kisses. On Saturday mornings my grandfather would faithfully attend shul to recite his morning prayers. My grandfather worked very hard to instill in his children an appreciation of such a diverse background, and my father has continued this tradition in our home.
I represent a blending of the Jewish and Arab cultures, starting with my name. Sara is Hebrew for princess; my middle name, Jameel, is Arabic for beautiful; Hadad means God of Weather and Storms in ancient Arabic, and blacksmith in modern Arabic. My father has always called me his "dark little Arab" because unlike my fair-haired brothers, I have dark eyes and hair. In an attempt to teach us the Jewish religion, my brothers and I were enrolled in a Sunday school at very young ages. Later I joined the Shoshanna chapter of the Bínai B'rith organization, where I learned to value religious beliefs independent of my parents' guidance. I furthered my tolerance of diversity by helping my mother at her Protestant church. As a result of these experiences, I have learned to appreciate and accept different religious and cultural ideas, which is why I have trouble comprehending the necessity of the prolonged fighting in the Middle East. I believe that in order to advance any endeavor, including the peace process, compromise is essential. It is obvious to me that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis easily compromise. The Palestinians use suicide bombers and the Israelis continue to build settlements.
Why we are unable to live harmoniously remains a mystery to me. Some people believe the warring communities of the Middle East living peacefully together is an impossible ambition. But I am living proof that these cultures have the ability to coexist. I represent hope.
Sara Jameel Hadad wrote her story while a senior at New Yorkís Briarcliff High School. She is now studying at Syracuse University.
New York Director Returns From Egypt
[Staff Report] Joyce Allegra Maio has just returned from a four-week trip to Egypt. Maio has directed the New York chapter of Ivri-NASAWI since 1998. She is a freelance writer, translator, consultant and producer. Maioís parents and family left Cairo in the mid to late 50ís with hundreds of other Jews, when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and all non-Egyptians and Jews were expelled. During this, her first trip back, Maioís objective was to explore her roots, along with contemporary Egyptian culture and sites of ancient civilization.
ìI still have an older cousin living there,î said Joyce, ìand he took me everywhere, from downtown Cairo to Heliopolis. They called Heliopolis the new city; itís now a quiet suburb of Cairo, but itís where my parents lived, where they sat for a meal, a pastry, a late afternoon refreshment, where they went to school, to synagogue, to the open-air cinema. Everything is still there.
ìI also went to Alexandria, the sea port on the Mediterranean where my parents met and where I was conceived. My mother was Miss Stanley Beach Beauty Queen there for one summer, when Stanley Beach was still an exclusive beach. Even though I can only suspect how everything has changed after 50 years, I was still able to grasp my roots and where my traditions came from as I grew up in France. I felt very familiar with the people, the environment, the customs, the smells, the emotional effervescence. I met several interesting people such as filmmaker Radwan El Sheif, who introduced me to both contemporary intellectual life and the nightlife. Arab music was everywhere in taxi cabs, and the Muezzinís call to prayer was part of my everyday environment. And then there is the Nile, this amazing river traversing Egypt from its Delta by the sea to the Sudanóthe source of life for this country. I felt very drawn to it, maybe because my mother used to sing me songs of the Nile when I was a child. I traveled by boat, gliding through the riverís currents while the scenery changed from hotel developments in Cairo to oasises and deserts. In Upper Egypt, I went ashore to visit the majestic ancient temples of the Pharaonic era. It was such an enriching experience to feel oneself part of a long history, from ancient times that built this empire to the land of contrasts which is Egypt today.
Radwan had the final word for me on my last night in Cairo: 'You've now become the girl of the Nile,' he said. 'You must come back.' Inchahallah."
Single Syrian Jewish Female
by Carole Shamula
How much is a single Jewish life worth? I received an invitation with this question in bold red letters. A shocking device used to draw us singles to yet another singles event? The gall of these people to embarrass me into attending another one. I opened the envelope and to my surprise, it was an appeal for an organization that supports children dying of cancer. I was so defensive about being unmarried, I assumed the quote was addressing my predicament. Was I crazy? I surveyed my fellow Syrian bowling league members at our Thursday night game and the girls, in unison, barked ìZero!î at me. I was not alone.
click here to read the complete article
Reader and Listener's Guide
Righteous Victims, A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999, by Benny Morris
What really happened in 1948? Was there at any time an era of peace and cooperation among Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land? Have ìthe factsî in this war of attrition (and terrorism on both sides) changed since the first Camp David summit? Was Camp David II doomed to failure? Israeli historian Benny Morris, one of the leading revisionists, provides top-notch scholarship to answer these and other troubling questions. A must-read for all activists, regardless of political orientation. Alfred Knopf, 1999. $40.00
False Papers, Essays on Exile and Identity
by André Aciman
Ever since the critical success of his memoir, Out of Egypt, André Aciman has become something of the spokesman for Egyptian Jewish culture. Born in Alexandria, he was raised in Egypt, Italy and France. Is the essay ìAlexandria: The Capital of Memoryî in this slim collection an antidote to Lawrence Durrellís Alexandria Quartet? Judge for yourself. A Francophile rather than an Arabist, Aciman writes eloquently about Levantine culture, Jewish memory and the art of exile. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2000. $23.00
A World Between, Poems, Short Stories, Essays by Iranian-Americans, eds. Persis Karim & M.M. Khorrami
Once as invisible as Arab Americans and Arab Jews, Iranians in the U.S. have become increasingly vocal since the 1979 Revolution in that country. This vibrant collection includes Persians of Muslim as well as Jewish background; often the poetic insights are profound, and the fiction and essays open up multiple worlds many of us have never known. Notable are Azadeh Farahmand, Laleh Khalili, Nahid Rachlin, and Siamak Namazi. One hopes this anthology, in addition to the novels of Gina Nahai, represents the beginning of an entire new branch of Iranian-American literature. George Braziller, $18.50
order from Cafe Arabica http://www.cafearabica.com/store/merchant.ihtml?
Arabs in America, Building a New Future
edited by Michael W. Suleiman
One way to acquire a better sense of Middle Eastern Jews is to study other Middle Eastern cultures, by reading what Arab writers have to say about themselves. One finds in these essays a clear resonance with other immigrant cultures in the American not-melting pot. In fact, Therese Salibaís ìResisting Invisibility: Arab Americans in Academia and Activismî puts one in mind of some of the experiences of Sephardi/Mizrahi folks in the same arenas. Many of us, regardless of our background, will find these essays resonate. Temple University Press, 1999. $29.95 http://www.temple.edu/tempress/
Mediterraneans, Voices From Morocco
edited by Kenneth Brown
Mediterraneans/Méditerranéennes is a biannual, bilingual journal. This edition, on the many facets of Moroccan life, is brimming with eclectic, high-caliber essays, stories, poetry, photography and art. Kenneth Brown is a scholar and a traveler, and he has produced several excellent issues on such themes as Beirut, Algeria, and Palestinians/Israelis, without pulling any punches. A UCLA alumni, a writer himself, Brown currently lives in Paris and is preparing a new Mediterraneans about Marseille. To subscribe, call 011ï33ï1ï4954ï2063 or fax 4548ï8353, or email
Iraq Under Siege, the Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove
Once-thriving Jewish communities in Iraq are now virtually extinct, yet Iraqi, or Babylonian Jews still care deeply about their homeland. More than 1.5 million Iraqis have died since the Gulf War, many as a result of international sanctions enforced by the U.S. As many as 10,000 children and elders a month have perished for lack of food and medicine. Is Saddam Hussein worth such human devastation? Read Rania Masri, John Pilger, Howard Zinn and 15 others on this tragedy and learn what you can do to help bring sanctions to an end. South End Press, 1999.
poems by Stephen Kessler
Few but the connaisseurs know Modigliani was a Sephardic Jew, but hey, canít we all just get along? Stephen Kessler is a universalist, and his poems reflect the quirky sensibility of an urban poet who lives in the countryside. As Juan Felipe Herrera notes, Kessler is ìa language rogue, a bard of solitude and singer for a greater harmony.î Also a noted translator of Spanish, Kessler has rendered Cortázar, Borges, Vicente and other Latin greats into English, and has published altogether fifteen titles. Check out this one from Creative Arts, 2000. $15.00
Post Gibran, New Arab American Writing
edited by Khaled Mattawa and Munir Akash
This could be deemed the literary companion volume to Arabs in America (see above); it contains several dozen of the best Arab Americans writing today, including some of our favorites: Samuel Hazo, Mohja Kahf, Suheir Hammad, Etel Adnan and Naomi Shihab Nye. Mattawa, a skilled Libyan poet, has with Munir Akash, Jusoorís editor and founder, brought together an important volume. The only glitch is the presence of Mahmoud Darwish who, while indubitably one of the worldís greats, is not an Arab American, but a Palestinian, full-stop. Syracuse University Press, 1999. $19.95 http://www.jusoor.com/ or write
Enrico Macias, Hommage à Cheikh Raymond
Everyone knows Macias for his French pop songs; how many are familiar with his Algerian Jewish roots in traditional music? Not only is Macias a fine guitarist, but here he performs many beautiful Arab ìmaloofî melodies. With this double CD, Macias returns to his beginngs in Constantine, performing here with Taoufik Bestandji and the Foundok ensemble. This is a beautiful compendium of classic and new improvisations on contemporary love songs. Trema/Sony Music. $18.00 (ask for it at Borders). For an interview with Macias in French, go to http://www.nouvelobservateur.
Nass Marrakech, Sabil ëa ëSalaam
What would we do without great world music? Somehow Engelbert Humperdink cannot compare with Macias at his Algerian finest, nor does Humpís bassist come close to the deep-down grooves of authentic Gnawa music, a staple of southern Morocco that has begun to spread around the globe. Nass Marrakech is made up mainly of contemporary Moroccan musicians who mix Gnawa with West African, flamenco, Indian percussion, Japanese flutes and other global elements. Whether youíre into trance, oud, sintir, flamenco or you just need a break from Humperdink, Nass Marrakech is going to be a favorite. Alula Records, 2000. $18.00, (Virgin Megastore or Borders will carry this). http://www.alula.com/
Jari Chevalier, About Face
Spoken Word & Music
Sometimes you want to find a bit of quiet time, but you also yearn for something soothing and thoughtful to accompany you. Chevalierís About Face is it. A spellbinding poet, she performs here with subtle bass and the sounds of Indian esraj and sarode. The result is a lovely meditation, an ìEast/West journey.î Some of her poems such as ìLooking Inî and ìDesireî have unforgettable lines and phrasing. Hereís just one: ì...Iíve taken a wrong turn and wondered: am I lost, or in a blessing?î $18.95 includes shipping. www.tapvoice.com or email .
Ex-Centric Sound System, Electric Voodooland
Yossi Fine, the irreverent Israeli bassist and arranger who produced Emil Zrihanís ìAshkelonî CD last year, returns with an entirely different proposition: African/West Indian meets techno meets world jazz fusion. The title says it all: get in, get down, get high on music with the power of voodoo. The group includes Nana Dadzie on African xylohone & percussion, kalimba, flutes, horns and vocals; Adevo on African percussion, flute and vocals; Benjamin Sai K. on more percussion and vocals; and Michael Avgil on drums. Loud Records, NY., 2000. $18.00 http://www.sonymusic.com/labels/
Upcoming Events and Meetings
Aug 24, L.A., 7:30 pm. Damian Draghici & Guests, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Bd. Romanian Gypsy/Jewish and Middle Eastern music, with guests on flamenco guitar, oud, and percussion. Free, but there is a parking charge. Seating is limited, arrive early. For general info, call 310ï 440ï4500.
Aug 26, L.A., 8 and 10 pm. Common Tongue, radical world beat, Middle Eastern, North African, Brazilian and R & B, a six-piece band combines a variety of instruments and musical talents, providing another example of the emerging planet-hop genre. Led by RebbeSoul's Bruce Burger. Alter Knit Lounge, new L.A. Knitting Factory, 7071 Hollywood Blvd., at Sycamore. 323ï463ï0204. $8.
Aug 27, N.Y., 8 am to 8 pm On Eagle's Wings, The Dynamic Culture of Yemenite Jews, an international conference organized by Queens College Center for Jewish Studies. Through scholarly exploration of Yemenite Jewish history, religion, and culture, complemented by demonstrations of Yemenite Jewish art and performances of Yemenite Jewish music and dance, this international conference seeks to present the dramatic story and dynamic culture of Yemenite Jewry. Dozens of participants include photographer Zion Ozeri, and scholars Ephraim Isaac, Nitza Druyan, Reuben Aharoni, Hayim Tawil, Miri Hunter Haruach and Aharon Gaimani. Call 718ï997ï5730 or 718ï997ï4530.
Sept 3, Europe European Day of Jewish Culture. According to a travel advisory by Ruth Ellen Gruber, published in the Aug. 21 edition of the New York Times,Jewish sites in 16 European countries will simultaneously open their doors to the public on Sept. 3, in "in recognition of Jewish heritage as an integral part of European tradition." Synagogues, cemeteries, ritual baths, museums and medieval ghettos in countries including Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain are included. This initiative is coordinated by the European Council of Jewish Communities, www.ecjc.org, the Strasbourg-based Agency for the Development of Tourism on the Bas-Rhin, www.sdv.fr/judaisme/journee/europ/3sept.htm, B'nai Brith Europe, www.bnaibrith-europe.org/program.htm, and the Red de Juderias de Espana, www.redjuderias.org.
Sept 6, L.A., 8 pm. Gérard Edery & George Mgrdichian, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Dr. Flaming flamenco and oud duos feature Sephardic and Middle Eastern music. Great acoustics in the Gindi Auditorium. Tickets $20, discounts for groups of 20 or more. (310) 476ï9777, ext. 203.
Sept 7-18, S.F., 8 pm. Arab Film Festival Cinemayaat & Jewish Film Festival, copresent several films in the city and the East Bay. Some screenings feature guest speakers and filmmakers. For complete schedule, phone 415ï564ï1100, emailor visit www.aff.org.
Sept 11, N.Y., 7:30 pm. Conversations on Roots & Identity 5, Ivri-NASAWI's living room series, presents guest speaker Vivienne Roumani-Denn on Libyan Jews, followed by discussion of Mizrahi issues. Light refreshments. Open to the public, but you must RSVP with Joyce Maio: 212ï362ï9074, or email . 390 West End Ave Apt 2M, entrance on Broadway. Phone night of event, 212-874-0832.
Sept. 16, L.A., 5:00 pm. Reception for Artist Jacob El Hanani, Mark Moore Gallery, Bergamot Station A-One, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. El Hanani, whose work is collected in 25 American museums, was born in Casablanca and now lives and works in New York. 310ï453ï3031.
Sept. 17, D.C, 5 pm. Open House/Salon for New DC Chapter The nationís capital is organizing a new chapter to support/celebrate Sephardi/Mizrahi cultural experession. The evening includes Yerah Gover speaking on Sephardi/Mizrahi writers in Israel; Turkish poet Murat Nemet-Nejat will talk about growing up as a Persian Jew in Istanbul and perform his poetry; and Bosnian Sephardi performer Flory Jagoda presents a selection of music. RSVP 202ï537ï0708. Email: .
Sept. 24, N.Y., 11 am Morocco: Jews and Art in a Muslim Land, Jewish Museum, 5th Ave. at 92nd St. Exhibit, which runs through Feb. 11, 2001, focuses on Moroccoís multicultural art and traditions and the history of Jewish life in Morocco for over 2,000 years. 212ï423ï3200. www.thejewishmuseum.org
And new this September, Los Angeles launches its own Conversations on Roots & Identity series, an "open mic" evening with light refreshments and the opportunity to explore cultural, artistic and identity issues. To get on the list for the first evening, RSVP to and leave your name, phone number, address, and email.
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has published the 4th edition of its Independent Jewish Film Resource Guide. An invaluable guidebook to films, videos, filmmakers and distributors, it also includes several new essays on Jewish film, including two by Ivri-NASAWI members, Jordan Elgrably's "Arab Jews, 1995-2000: The Road Behind and Before Us" and Lital Levy's "Dybbuks and J'noon: Diasporic Hauntings As Cultural Critique." and Copies are $20 and can be ordered from the SF JFF, 415ï621-0556, www.sfjff.org, email .
The latest issue of Nasawi News is now available. Join today to begin receiving your subscription, or send $6 (includes first class postage) for individual copies.
To join Ivri-NASAWI as a new Essential, Professional, Associate, or Supporting member, please go to www.ivri-nasawi.org/membership.html.
New Assoc. of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers Intl.
Headquarters: 1033 N. Orlando Ave., Los Angeles CA 90069
Los Angeles 323ï650ï3157 New York, 212ï362ï9074 SF Bay Area, 415ï338ï1706 DC-Baltimore, 202ï537ï0708