March/April 2001

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, Danny Feingold
Editors-at-Large: Ammiel Alcalay, Ruth Behar, Ella Habiba Shohat


  • Sunlight & Shadow, The Jewish Experience of Islam, by Lucien Gubbay

  • reviewed by David Shasha
  • When Being Jewish Means Ashkenazi

  • by Loolwa Khazzoom
  • The Author as Martyr, or the Story of Suleika: The Road to Fez, a novel by Ruth Knafo Setton

  • reviewed by Jordan Elgrably
  • Theology for Atheists: An Appreciation of Yehuda Amichai

  • by Stephen Kessler
  • Sephardic Women Poets: A Metered Tradition

  • by Rahel Musleah
  • ArtistJoyce Dallal

  • New Sephardic Library in L.A.

  • Art Benveniste
  • A Sephardic Survival List: 52 Essential Titles

  • [to email us your own booklist, click here]
  • A Need for a Mizrahi (Sepharadi) Yeshiva in America

  • Houman Moussighi Kashani
  • The Jews of Iraq: A Brief by Daniel Khazzoom

  • The Levantine Center Project

  • by Jordan Elgrably

    Raíces 45

    Chelata Haroun, Egyptian Jew, Dies in Cairo

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

  • March Calendar    send us your news and views

  • Jewish Music Festival March 10-17, SF Bay Area

  • Inside News: Two books on Indian Jews; upcoming Meetings.

  • membership

    Sunlight & ShadowThe "Arab Problem": Jews of the East in the West

    by David Shasha

    Lucien Gubbay's book is a needed roadmap not only for many Euro-American Jews, Arabs and Muslims---who have not previously given thoughtful examination to a history which is part of their own untold story---but it is a book which speaks directly to displaced Jews of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Today, the children and grandchildren of Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Moroccan, Persian, Turkish and other Jews of Islamic lands know increasingly little about the customs of their immediate and extended family. Only a small percentage of the many thousands living outside of the Middle East today remain intimately familiar with the rites and rituals, the culture and history of the Sephardi/Mizrahi experience.

    The largest dilemma currently facing Sephardim is the problem of self-knowledge. Our children who attend American Jewish day schools are faced exclusively with Ashkenazi oriented curricula and administrators and teachers who, even if they are Sephardi in ethnic origin, have been trained in the methods of the ubiquitous Board of Jewish Education and the general detritus of the larger Orthodox Torah Umesorah system which has controlled the Jewish day school system since the 1950ís. This control has created a pedagogical status quo that produces a student with very definable characteristics not traditionally Sephardi in orientation.

    continue here

    When Jewish Mean Ashkenazi

    by Loolwa Khazzoom


    Rarely in the organized Jewish community, in the United States, do you find Jews of Sephardi or Mizrahi origin in leadership positions---managers, directors, presidents, vice presidents, no, nary a one. Indeed, a cursory look at institutions such as the Skirball Cultural Center, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (New York) or a glance at the editorial masthead of nationally-prominent newspapers such as the Jewish Journal (Los Angeles), Forward (New York), Jewish Bulletin (San Francisco) and Jewish Week (New York), all reveal that the Jews of Arab/Muslim lands are maintained in token status, when they are represented at all.

    The same holds true, appallingly, for Jewish Studies departments at major universities: while Hebrew and history professors of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent are present, they are rarely department heads. The best jobs still go to their Ashkenazi counterparts. This of course determines the manner in which Jewish history and literature is taught, with the result that there is undeniably a hegemonic discourse summarily dismissing the valuable intellectual achievements of non-Eastern European and American Jewry.

    I am without a doubt not the only person who finds this troubling; nor is Ivri-NASAWI the only organization which exists to advocate for greater inclusion of these voices, stories, experiences. Yet the situation persists, and it is nothing new. In republishing Loolwa Khazzoom's essay "When Jewish Means Ashkenazi," we are asking everyone in the Jewish community to re-examine their attitudes and perhaps prejudices, toward people of color in general and Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews in particular.

    And the next time you pick up a Jewish publication, such as Moment, Tikkun, Haddasah, Commentary or any of the above-named newspapers, ask yourself if the editor or managing editor is perhaps someone of Sephardic or Middle Eastern origin; take a closer look at the editorial selection, and see if there is a genuine attempt to present the news from a broader, more pluralist perspective; and if you find that there is an absence, if you don't feel that a truly inclusive and international perspective is conveyed (comparable to what Ha'aretz is doing these days in its English international edition), write a letter to the editors, make a phone call. Request that among op-ed writers and columnists be included the "other" Jewish voices which have much to contribute to the intellectual, creative, and religious life of the American Jewish experience.

    When Jewish Mean Ashkenazi
    Gut shabbos; gut yuntif; let's say kiddish...

    Most Jews who have been involved even minimally in community religious life will be familiar with all these expressions. And if we are not, we are expected to be. This phenomenon is one of Ashkenazi privilege.

    Ashkenazi privilege lies in the assumption that anything billed as "Jewish" will reflect Ashkenazi identity: the assumption and expectation that if we open a book labeled "World Jewish history," we will find the modern history of Jews from Poland, Russia, and Germany; the assumption and expectation that if there is a Hanukkah party sponsored by the Jewish community, there will be dreidels, latkes, and gelt; the assumption and expectation that if we send our children to a Jewish school, they will learn Ashkenazi traditions.

    continue here

    Road to FezThe Author as Martyr, or the Story of Suleika

    by Jordan Elgrably

    Ruth Knafo Setton is a writer blessed with flashes of brilliance. Elsewhere, in her short stories, poetry and essays, published in a range of literary journals and anthologies, she shows a mastery of both craft and voice. At times her prose has genuine heart, is strong and supple, with a passion that reminds me of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Spanish Dancer"---a poem that is swift, rhythmic, and stunning. Certainly there are places in the The Road to Fez, her first novel, where Setton's language and setting momentarily distract the attentive reader from the book's underlying malaise. Her instances of literary élan, however, are marred by the author's unremitting identification with one of her characters, a Moroccan Jewish heroine beheaded in 1837 by order of the Sultan who loved her.

    Indeed, The Road to Fez is ultimately about Suleika Hatchuel, a 17-year-old martyr to Judaism, and about Brit Lek, the author's 18-year-old alter ego. Brit identifies with Suleika in the 1960s, and seeks out her tomb on her first trip back to Morocco, having emigrated to the States with her family at the age of six. There is also a sultry subplot about Brit's forbidden love for her handsome uncle Gaby, who still lives in the old country while most Jews have left for Israel, France, the U.S. or Canada. Both the Suleika story and the illicit affair with uncle Gaby weave a narrative that feels overburdened by victimhood, paranoia and persecution. "A lifetime of fear clouds my eyes," Brit admits. And she is warned: "Don't go in the medina [the old city]. Jews go there and disappear." Brit's father has nothing but horrible memories of Morocco and tells her: "Don't look anyone in the eye. Don't draw attention to yourself."

    Moroccan Jewish males don't come off much better than their Muslim counterparts. Confesses Gaby, "most men beat their wives."

    continue here

    Theology for Atheists: An Appreciation of Yehuda Amichai

    by Stephen Kessler

    Whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians ever get together on a peace deal, my pick for the Nobel Prize in literature would have been Yehuda Amichai. Israel's poet laureate died on Friday, September 22, 2000 after a long illness. He was 76.  Amichai, his books translated into 37 languages beyond the original Hebrew, has long been one of the planetís preeminent poets. The evidence in English is abundant, most notably up to now in two substantial volumes: The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell (Harper & Row, 1986; revised and expanded edition 1996, California), and Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry 1948-1994, translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav (HarperCollins, 1994). As if that werenít enough, last spring we were given what the jacket flap touts as his magnum opus, a tightly integrated sequence of poems translated by Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, Open Closed Open.

    Amichai was a connoisseur of the paradoxical. By turns, and often at the same time, erotic and metaphysical, devout and skeptical, earnest and ironic, grief-drenched and dryly witty, his poems investigate contemporary realities from a biblical perspective and rethink biblical stories from a contemporary angle. Jewish down to the bones, his humanity is broadly universal, obsessed as he is with time and death, war and peace, love and memory, joy and suffering. Zionist in his attachment to the rocks and sand of his homeland (Amichai emigrated to Palestine from Germany in 1936 at the age of 12), still he was not a nationalist in the political sense of that word.

    continue here

    Artist Joyce Dallal

    The Levy Family Sephardic Library Opens in Los Angeles

    by Art Benveniste

    In the past several years, there has been a renaissance of Sephardic life around the United States, which can be seen in an increased number of music, art and literary programs, created by both Sephardic and Ashkenazic groups. Among them are Sephardic Film Festivals in Los Angeles (Sephardic Educational Center) and New York (Sephardic House), the annual Sephardic Arts Festival (Los Angeles), and the dozens of salons, concerts, readings and festival organized by Ivri-NASAWI. While Ivri-NASAWI has excercised an appreciable effect on the consciousness of a Jewish community which previously took little notice of Sephardic cultures (unless as a folkloric remnant), other organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami have also contributed to a subtle change in the climate.

    continue here

  • A Sephardic Survival List: 52 Essential Titles by David Shasha

  • to email us your own booklist, click here

  • The Jews of Iraq: A Brief by Daniel Khazzoom

  • A Baghdad native discusses Babylonian history
  • Raíces 45, Spain's Sephardic Quarterly

  • The latest issue of Raíces ("Roots") has a special section on the Sephardim of Bulgaria, with several articles by Rocío Yossifova Avrámova, Agustín de Foxa, Rya and Iván Kanchev. Sultana Wahnón, a philosophy and literature professor at the University of Granada, signs an interesting new essay on Elias Canetti's book, Crowds and Power.  There is also a rather thorough essay on the Jews of Tetuán (Morocco) by Jacobo Israel Garzón. You can write the editors at , or visit the Raíces website to learn more.

    Chelata Haroun, Egyptian Jew, Dies In Cairo

    [Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2001]

    Chehata Haroun, Egyptian Jewish politician, 82, who refused to let mounting prejudice oust him from his homeland, died in Cairo on Wednesday, March 14. Haroun, also a lawyer and author, was born in Egypt as was his father. Thousands of Egyptian Jews once formed a vibrant community, mainly in Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. But many left as anti-Jewish sentiment grew after the founding of Israel in 1948 and nationalization programs of the 1950s and 1960s, which stripped them of their businesses. Others were expelled during the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The community now numbers 200 to 300. Egypt became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. In the 1940s, Haroun was a founding member of the Egyptian Community Party, which in 1976 became the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party, known in Arabic as Tagamua, or "unionist." He was repeatedly arrested and detained with other leftists, who were viewed with suspicion by both British colonial authorities and the Egyptian government. Haroun died of a pulmonary embolism.

    # # #

    Does anyone have more detailed information about Chelata Haroun? I would like either write a more developed piece about him for our website (or future Levantine Review), or publish someone else's work. Haroun's story is one of many thousands that we would like to see recorded, transribed, published, archived, etc., through a common oral history project which we hope to create under the auspices of the Levantine Center. If you have information about Haroun, please get in touch with me at this email address. Thank you.

                                           Read more about Haroun

    Got something to contribute? Send us your news and views

    March/April Calendar
    click Calendar for very latest
    send us your listings

    Micaela Amato, Jamal        March 16 and Through May 3 2001, A Mediterranean Odysseys Artist Micael Amato shows twenty new two- and three-dimensional portraits at 55 Mercer Gallery (212) 226-8513. Opening reception Friday, March 16, 6-8 pm. 55 Mercer Street, NYC 10013.

    This is Amato's third exhibition at Mercer Gallery and her eleventh one-person show in New York City since 1975. In "2001, A Mediterranean Odyssey," time boundaries collapse and a trans-ethnic paradise is evoked through an intensity of bright colors in opposition to the west's highbrow aversion to color as symptomatic of the Oriental Other. Portraits are named after islands and ports: "Allegra of Rhodos," "Gioai of Sardegna," "Lucas of Cyprus," or "Perla of Cadiz." Mediterranean islands are understood as sites of transformation, metamorphosis.

    The Progressive Jewish Radio Hour at WBAI broadcasts in New York Sundays, 11 am Tune in locally or go here to listen over the Net.
    March 29 L.A. 7:30 pm Conversations on Roots & Identity 5: Iraq with Joyce Dallal, Lev Hakak and Salaam Yousif. This popular series raises issues of cultural roots, literary explorations and adjusting to a bicultural, American and Middle Eastern identity. Part five of the new series in L.A.  features American-born multimedia artist Joyce Dallal who reflects on the journey of her Iraqi Jewish parents from Baghdad to the U.S.A. Lev Hakak is a Baghdad-born fiction writer and UCLA professor of Hebrew whose work reflects his journey from Iraq to Israel and on to the States. Salaam Yousif is a Baghdadi-born scholar and essayist who reflects on Iraqi writing, at home and in exile.

    Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice 90291. Tickets $7 general, $5 members of Ivri-NASAWI and Beyond Baroque. As seating is limited, you must reserve by phone or email. Los Angeles. Call for directions. RSVP to (323) 650-3157 or .

    April 11 L.A. 7:30 pm Esther's Children This documentary screening at Sinai Temple is organized by the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History and the Sinai Center for Jewish Studies. Guest speakers are Dr. Janet Afary, Frank Nikbakhat and Homa Sarshar. Tea and Persian desserts will be served. Tickets are $5, and free for members of CIJOH and Sinai. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., at Beverly Glen, Westwood. Info (310) 474-1618, ext. 3243 or email

    April 16 L.A. 7:30 pm Children of Abraham, Muslim-Jewish Relations Series The UCLA Hillel Forum, Open Tent and other cooperating organizations present the second in a five-part program on Arab-Jewish issues. The Arab-Jewish Symbiosis: Myth & Reality examines "the plight of the Jew under Islamic rule" and how it differed from that of Jews in Christendom. Was it a "Golden Age" of tolerance and creativity? What was the true nature of the medieval Jewish experience? With Dr. David Nirenberg, Prof. of Humanities, Dept. of History, Johns Hopkins U., author of Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Respondent is Dr. Teofilo Ruiz, Prof. of History UCLA, author of Crisis and Continuity: Land and Town in Late Medieval Castile.


    April 17, N.Y. 9:00 pm Gerard Edery Ensemble Performs Treasures of Song with original painting by Brigitte Edery. The Gerard Edery Ensemble will perform at the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia St.  (Between Bleeker & W. 4th St.), NYC. This extraordinary ensemble presents a breathtaking evening of Sephardic, Spanish, French, Ladino, Hebrew and Arabic music, with traditional instruments and classically trained vocalists. From joyous hymns of celebration to poignant ballads of loss, from flamenco-inspired pieces to holy works of praise, Edery's commanding voice and the Ensemble's masterful musicianship creates an unforgettable evening of song.

    April 19, L.A, 8:00 pm The Levantine Project, organized by Open Tent Middle East Coalition, will hold the sixth of its monthly meetings at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. This educational series is a dialogue group and focuses on (re)building a cooperative and pluralistic society through dialogue, reconciliation, cultural renewal, grassroots initiatives, peace and justice. Open Tent includes diverse non-profit organizations, individuals and businesses who advocate for peace in the Middle East and among Middle Eastern descendents in the United States. Now meets every third Thursday of the month. RSVP with Open Tent (323) 650-3157 or email .

    April 22, 12 & 1:30 pm RebbeSoul - Klezmer Brunch at the Knitting Factory Hollywood Presents Bruce Berger and ensemble. Jewish/Middle Eastern music. 7021 Hollywood Blvd., at Sycamore Hollywood CA $15 for brunch and music; $5 for kids under 10 years old.  $10 for music with no brunch... nah! Eat! Enjoy! 323 463.0204

    April 30 L.A. 7:30 pm Children of Abraham, Muslim-Jewish Relations Series The UCLA Hillel Forum, Open Tent and other cooperating organizations present the third in a five-part program on Arab-Jewish issues. Under the Hijab (veil) & Behind the Mehitza (synagogue divider): Women in Islam and Judaism examines how in the two religions "women appear to serve in a subservient role as symbolized by their separation from men in the pubic sphere. How accurately do these external markers depict the role of women in each tradition? Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, clinical psychologist, adjunct clinical prof., Dept. Psychiatry UCLA School of Medicine, and Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Asst. Prof of Women's Studies, CSUN, Research Fellow at UCLA, author of Globalization, Gender and Religion: Politics of Women's Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts and Women in Muslim Socieities: Diversity within Unity.

    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.

    Next Open Tent meeting, Sunday, April 1, 11 a.m. brunch, 12-2 p.m. RSVP (323) 650-3157.

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

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

    Nasawi News
    Bulletin Board
    Levantine Project
    Open Tent