Special Summer Literary Issue
Edited by David Shasha


We are going to a bimonthly version of Nasawi News & Views while preparations continue for the print and online version of a new publication due to be launched in December: Levantine Review. Our calendar will be updated continuously, usually on a biweekly basis. Be sure to inform of us of any new and noteworthy programs of which you are aware.

We invite you to submit articles, op-eds, essays, fiction and poetry for both publications. Send a query to or include the file in Word to . You may wish to respond electronically to the authors in this edition of Nasawi News.

Nasawi News

Editor: Jordan Elgrably
Contributing Editors: Joyce Maio, David Shasha, Dalia Kandiyoti, Gloria Levitas, Habiba Boumlik
Editors-at-Large: Ammiel Alcalay, Ruth Behar, Ella Habiba Shohat


  • The Road to Fez

  • reviewed by David Shasha click here for an alternative viewpoint on the novel by Ruth Knafo Setton
  • Hebron Stories

  • reviewed by David Shasha
  • Sephardic Heritage Update, an independently compiled newsletter

  • A Sephardic Survival List: 52 Essential Titles

  • [to email us your own booklist, click here]
  • West Beirut Redux
  • The Nightmare of Diaspora: Yoram Hazony, Zionism and Jewish History

  • by David Shasha
  • The Levantine Center Project

  • by Jordan Elgrably

    Heard any great music lately? Tell us about it: email your favorite discography.

  • July/August Calendar   send us your news and views

  • Inside News: Two books on Indian Jews

  • membership

    Sunlight & ShadowThe Case of Moroccan Jewry

    The Road to Fez: A Novel

    Ruth Knafo Setton

    (Counterpoint Books, 2001, $23.00)

    By David Shasha

    The case of Moroccan Jewry is rather perplexing in its extremes: Moroccan Jews living in Paris were responsible for maintaining contacts with the PLO for over two decades, leading to the historic breakthroughs, now imperiled, between the Israeli government and the PLO at Oslo. This is the same Moroccan community that stands at the head of Sephardi support for Likud and other Right Wing parties in Israel. In America, the Moroccan Jewish community, interspersed among the larger American Sephardic community, betrays the same sort of knee-jerk reactionary hostility toward the Arabs as many in the Sephardi community.

    Sephardi progressives are keen on pointing out the lines of connection, historical and cultural, that exist and have existed between Jews and the Arabs in our lands of origin. And while there is actually very little sympathy in the Sephardic community that, in line with its Ashkenazi-styled "leadership," has by and large provided a powerful witness to the Zionist arguments that seek to indict Arabs and Arabic culture for their mistreatment of Jews and other minorities.

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    Hebron Stories
    Yitzhaq Shami

    Translated from the Hebrew by Israel Schen, Aubrey Hodes, Yael Lotan and Richard Flantz (Labyrinthos Press, $12.00)

    By David Shasha

    Modern Hebrew literature is primarily the domain of the many Eastern European Zionist writers who immigrated to Israel just after World War I. The classics of Hebrew literature, as defined in curricula such as the one I had to study in Flatbush Yeshivah High School, were Bialik, Tchernikhovsky, Agnon, Brenner et. al. These writers, many of whom came out of the Russian romantic tradition, were involved in a complex and often acrimonious internal debate about modernization and traditionalism.

    These writers had very specific ideas about the Jewish past and its relation to the present. At the center of this debate was the towering figure of Ahad Haíam (the pen name of Asher Ginsburg) who set out to clarify the role of Jewish culture within Zionist thought.

    Ahad Haíam grew, as did many of these writers and thinkers, within the traditional structure of Ashkenazi Judaism. Little by little, each one of these individuals found a way to abandon aspects of Jewish observance and traditional belief. Some, like Agnon, continued to rely on traditional texts and others, like Tchernikhovsky, sought to thoroughly abandon Orthodox Judaism in favor of a more expansive neo-paganism that looked back to ancient Greece and Rome.

    Modern Hebrew literature, still the conceptual foundation of the Israeli pedagogical system, was left, as was Zionist culture generally, untouched by the Sephardic element. Even while Sephardim comprised the sum total of the native Jewish element in Palestine during the years of the successive Aliyot to the Holy Land, Ashkenazim insisted on developing their own conceptual substrate in their march to statehood.

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    Sephardic Heritage Update

    New Book Announcement:

    Zvi Zoharís The Luminous Face of the East (Hebrew)

    During the past two centuries (c. 1800 ó 2000) the Jewish communities of the Middle East were home to rabbinic scholars and leaders of great stature and vision. The halakhic and philosophic creativity of these rabbis are the focus of this book, which reveals to its readers a rich and fascinating cultural world, offering a significant alternative to the Ashkenazic Orthodox ethos of "Torah prohibits the new". The paths blazed by these Sephardic-Oriental leaders in dealing with modernity reflect modes of religious thought and cultural openness that are potentially meaningful and relevant for all Jews interested in a Judaism that is authentically traditional but also alive and responsive to cultural and historical change.

    The bookís structure follows geographic divisions: Three chapters on rabbinic creativity in Iraq are followed by two chapters on Syria and then four chapters on the rabbis of Egypt. Then come seven chapters on the writings and thought of Sephardic rabbis in Eretz Israel. A final chapter presents a general thesis on the differences between the Halakhic ethos of Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis in modern times.

    Zvi Zohar is a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he founded the Center for Halakha. He is also a senior faculty member of Bar Ilan university, where he holds a position in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry.

    continue here to read the complete Sephardic Heritage Update

    A Sephardic Survival List: 52 Essential Titles by David Shasha
    to email us your own booklist, click here

    West Beirut Redux

         The role of Beirut in the Arab world throughout the 1950's and 1960's was that of a free, cosmopolitan metropolis that was eclectic in its modernity and avowedly secular in orientation.  The collapse of Beirut in the 1970's, due to a tragic confluence of political and military factors involving Syrians, Palestinians and, eventually, Israelis and Iranians, led to the destruction of a significant artistic and creative haven in the increasingly reactionary Arab universe.

           Ziad Douari's film "West Beirut" provides a tiny portrait of this tragedy.  In this finely realized film we have a realistic presentation of a slice of the collapse of this great Arab city.

           "West Beirut" begins in a schoolyard.  With the children of the French School of Beirut lining up to sing the French national anthem, we find our protagonist, Tariq Nouwari (in English it roughly translates into "The Illuminated Path") seeking to stir up trouble by getting up on the top floor of the school and singing the Lebanese national anthem.

           This dichotomy of the national aspirations of the Lebanese, here being played in a joking fashion by a young man who seeks to upend his hated French teacher, against the cultural hegemony of France is more ironic than academic.  Throughout the first portions of the film, there are references to French culture which are omnipresent throughout the Lebanese landscape.

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    The Nightmare of Diaspora
    Yoram Hazony and his Zionist Progenitors

    by David Shasha

    Yitzhak Baer and the Jewish Expression

    The unique thing about the manner in which Zionism has sought to usurp Jewish memory has been the way in which its ideological adherents seek to find it everywhere throughout history. Rather than see Zionism as a newly minted historical phenomenon, Zionists have insisted that Zionism was omnipresent throughout Jewish history.

    It is this insistence on the transhistorical nature of the Zionist enterprise that has made the study of Jewish history such an incendiary element of modern Jewish life. The following quote is from Yitzhak Baer's History of the Jews in Christian Spain:

    Palestine, with its Temple, pietist movements, and wealth of sacred traditions, had around it, even during that period [the Second Commonwealth], a widely dispersed Diaspora, exhibiting the fundamental characteristics of the Jewish dispersion of a later day ó a Diaspora with rights curtailed and living only on limited sufferance, waiting for the Redeemer, defending itself against attackers, and wrestling with a theoretical anti-Semitism which exploited the obvious contradiction between the avowed mission of Israel and his actual state of dependence.

    One can see in this citation that the Jewish nationalist historian such as Baer, along with people like Ben Zion Dinur, reads history through the lens of 19th century Romantic Nationalism. The key words in the passage: "Diaspora," "sufferance," "attackers," "anti-Semitism," "mission" and "dependence," are all markers of a hermeticism that is central to ethnic nationalism.

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    Got something to contribute? Send us your news and views

    August Calendar
    click Calendar for very latest
    send us your listings

    Wed., Aug. 1,7:30 pm, L.A. - Passion of Spain, Romantic Jewish, Moslem and Chrisitan Ballads of the Middle Ages A trio will perform romantic poems once heard throughout Southern France, Spain and North Africa at a time of cultural dialogue. Vanessa Paloma, Ginna Watson and David Martinelli each bring virtuosity, scholarship and emotion to this rarely performed repertoire. Paloma is a Los Angeles-based singer of contemporary and early repertoires, and will be joined by vielle and rebec player Ginna Watson from Minneapolis and David Martinelli, well known in Los Angeles for his participation in Arabic music ensembles. Wednesday August 1, 2001 7:30 PM at Kehillat Ma'arav 1715 21st Street (just south of Olympic) Santa Monica $10 General Public For information and RSVP call 323-658-5824. Organized by The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and the Israeli Consulate in conjunction with Kehillat Ma'arav.


    Fri., Aug. 3,6-9 pm, L.A. - Persian Visual Artist/Writer Gita Khashabi Gita Khashabi presents new multimedia work and poetry, in a group show and reception organized by Side street Projects Gallery. Khashabi and other participating artists use writing as a component of their artmaking or are writers who use a visual component to their writing. There will be writing on the wall, floor, on pedestals, armchairs and couches, tables, or suspended in mid-air. Do not be surprised when you also see sculptural installations, paintings and drawings, objects, photographs, poems, and so on. Side Street Projects Gallery, 400 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (Enter from 4th St.). 213-620-8895 Email: sidest@ix.netcom.com

    AUG 16 L.A. Sami Chetrit Reads at Beyond Baroque, 8:30 pm One of Israel¹s most outspoken activists on behalf of Mizrahi culture, and a critic of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Moroccan-born poet Sami Shalom Chetrit will read poetry in Hebrew and English at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.eads in Hebrew and English. He will also discuss the conflict and the role of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jewish culture. Chetrit is the author of two poetry collections published in Hebrew, Opening (Ptiha, 1988), and Freha Is a Beautiful Name (Freha Shem Yafe, 1995), excerpts of which appeared in the 1996 anthology Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing (ed. Ammiel Alcalay, City Lights Books). He is currently editing a new collection of poetry, Poems in Ashdodian (Shirim BeAshdodit), after the city where he resides in Israel.At Beyond Baroque, Thursday, Aug. 16, 8:30 pm 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, a few blocks west of Lincoln. Tickets $7, $5 members of Ivri-NASAWI and Beyond Baroque. Seating is limited. RSVP, 323-650-3157 or email: Organized by Ivri-NASAWI, cosponsored by Open Tent.

    Sunday, August 19 L.A. 7:30 pm . Sephardic Music Festival with Gérard Edery, Judy Frankel, John Bilezikjian & Ensemble. At Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Tickets $25, $18 group rate if you contact Ivri-NASAWI, 323-650-3157. For general information visit Brandeis-Bardin. For complete festival details click here.

    Thurs., August 23 Washington, D.C. 7:30 pm . New Sephardi/Mizrahi writers group meets. Anyone interested in writing, oral history, and Sephardi/Mizrahi cultures is invited to attend this meeting. A new group of writers & readers will create a regular time and place to meet on a monthly basis in northern DC or southern Maryland. Meeting location to be announced. To RSVP, send an email with your daytime phone number and email address to Ivrinasawi@aol.com. Or call Ivri-NASAWI, 323-650-3157. New members signing up the day of this meeting will receive a complementary copy of the new anthology With Signs & Wonders. Order today, click here for details.


    Inside News:

    Mavis Hyman, a resident of London, writes about the Jews of Baghdadi origin and others of Middle Eastern provenance living in India over the past 200 years, a period corresponding roughly with the Raj. This is a compelling account, with original photos and documents. Like her book on Indian-Jewish cooking, Jews of the Raj is available through the author. Write or call her at (011-44) 20-8883-3603.

    Upcoming Ivri-NASAWI meetings, Los Angeles, call (323) 650-3157 from 9 am to noon, M-F.

    *Ivri-NASAWI listsSephardi/Mizrahi and Middle Eastern-related events produced by other organizations. Please be sure to call in your programs with 30 days advance notice whenever possible. To inquire about our affordable web rates, call 323-650-3157.

    To inquire about membership in Ivri-NASAWI, click here.

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