Connect with us
Seder Passover
Israel Bonds RRSP
JNF Canada

RSS

Why is the Ukraine war more Jewish than the Iranian uprising? A year after Mahsa Amini’s death, that should change.

(JTA) — I regularly post Middle Eastern Jewish feminist content on social media, so right when Mahsa Amini was murdered, TikTok’s algorithm flooded my account with videos of women from Iran, giving a play-by-play account of events.

Amini was a 22-year-old woman from Kurdistan, visiting her relatives in Tehran. Despite the fact that she was covered from head to toe, wearing the compulsory hijab, the “morality police” arrested and beat her to death because they did not approve of how she was dressed. That incident was Iran’s equivalent of George Floyd’s murder in the United States, and sparked a woman-led revolution throughout Iran and Kurdistan — with protesters flooding the streets, women publicly burning their hijabs, and police arresting tens of thousands of protesters, as well as brutally torturing and murdering hundreds. The incident shook me to my core and felt very personal to me, specifically as a Jew.

The degree to which the murder of a Muslim woman in Tehran affected a Jewish woman in Seattle might surprise many in the American Jewish community. To understand, let’s take a little trip back through time: Jews throughout the Middle East and North Africa hail from the Babylonian conquest of ancient Israel, Yehuda, which is how we got our name, Yehudim, or Jews. Fifty years after that conquest, the Persian empire conquered the Babylonian empire and not only allowed the Jews to go home, but helped rebuild the Temple — the wall still remaining today in Jerusalem. Many Jews nonetheless stayed put or migrated throughout the Asian and African continents — including my family, who remained on the land of Babylon until being exiled from Iraq in 1950. We are collectively known as the Mizrahim.

Contrary to popular belief, Arab Muslims are not indigenous throughout the Middle East and North Africa; rather, they rose up from the Arabian Peninsula and conquered the region, similar to the Christian crusaders of Europe. Many indigenous ethnicities and religions predated the Arab Muslim presence by well over a millennia — including Jews, Persians and Kurds. Still, all were subject to the whims of Muslim rule — including the injunction that all women, including Jewish women, had to wear the local variations of the hijab.

I inherited my grandmother’s abaya, a black silk head-to-toe garment that she wore in the blazing heat of Baghdad, day after day. In the introduction to first edition of my 2003 book, “The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage,” I talked about coming across this garment in the attic of my parents’ house in the Bay Area, where I grew up. After putting it on, I looked in the mirror — two brown eyes peering back at me, with my face and body otherwise shrouded in black.

How did my grandmother feel wearing it? I wondered. I will never know, because the stories of my family were filtered through my father, lacking the woman’s perspective.

When I first finished compiling and editing my anthology, 30 years ago, it was in fact called “Behind the Veil of Silence” — not only because of the theme of Middle Eastern and North African Jewish women physically wearing the veil, but also because of additionally being shrouded by a veil of obscurity in each of the communities to which we belong/don’t belong.

Case in point: Nobody wanted to publish the anthology for another decade — not the Jewish press, the people-of-color press, or the feminist press. I was told we needed to include Ashkenazi women, non-Jewish women of color, and even men, to make the book relevant or valid. Standing on principle and integrity, I insisted that we were relevant and valid in our own right, and over the years, could wallpaper my apartment with rejection letters.

Then 9/11 happened; consciousness shifted; I had several top literary agents fighting over the book; and ultimately, one of the many publishers I had approached years prior ended up publishing the book in 2003. By then, everyone was writing books about Middle Eastern women and veils, so I ended up having to change the title. The veil, however, remained and remains not only an apt metaphor for the invisibility of Middle Eastern and North African Jewish women, but also for our collective physical experience of donning the veil under Muslim rule.

Which all goes to say, the murder of Mahsa Amini, and the subsequent uprising in Iran, not only feel very personal to me, but are inextricably intertwined with Jewish identity and history. From this deeply personal and Jewish place, I wrote the poem “#MahsaAmini” just a day or two after Amini’s murder, and months later, I turned it into a song, incorporating the style of traditional Middle Eastern Jewish prayers. My band finished developing the song several weeks ago, just in time to release it on Saturday, the anniversary of Amini’s death.

On the day the song automatically begins streaming, I will be chanting the ancient Iraqi prayers for Rshana (Rosh Hashanah). Come to think of it, as the first woman worldwide that I know of to publicly lead Sephardi/Mizrahi prayers, starting back in the early 1990s, and having led the women’s section of an Iraqi synagogue in an uprising back in the 1980s, when I was just 14, the timing is perhaps a particularly fitting coincidence.

I recently let numerous Jewish media outlets know about the release, with little traction, and one responding that while it is “truly a powerful and important song…we don’t think there’s a clear enough Jewish component to cover.” Out of curiosity, I looked up articles on the Ukraine war in this very same outlet, and found numerous articles on the topic.

How is the Ukraine war more Jewish than the Iranian uprising? The difference is one of Ashkenazi perspective and frame of reference. Despite the strides of Jewish multiculturalism permeating mainstream Jewish consciousness; despite Persian Jewish history predating European Jewish history by as much as two millennia; and despite Mizrahim comprising between 50% and 70% of Israel’s Jewish population since the mid-20th century, “Iran” still does not equate with “Jewish,” whereas countries like Ukraine, Poland and Germany do.

It’s a vicious cycle: As Jewish institutes continue to fail entirely, or at least adequately, to teach about Jewish history and heritage from outside Central and Eastern Europe — despite ample opportunities and resources to do so — and as that which is Sephardi/Mizrahi and Ethiopian-Jewish continue to be treated as extracurricular and optional, contemporary issues significant for global Jewry will continue to seem entirely disconnected from Jewish relevance, and will be neither discussed nor taught, with the ignorance creating more ignorance.

The uprising raises so many decidedly Jewish questions: Where was the world’s outrage when Jews were being lynched publicly in Iran? How does the Persian Jewish community experience this new revolution? Can the older Iranians now recognize Jews as the canaries in the coal mine of the 1970s Iranian revolution?

Then there’s the fact that Jews are part of the revolutionary leadership in Iran. Take Armita Abbasi, a young woman whose name I deliberately speak in the #MahsaAmini song. After Abbasi led a demonstration, police arrested and gang-raped her repeatedly, otherwise tortured her, and barred her family from a hospital visit. Photos of Abbasi show her proudly wearing a Star of David necklace, and I imagine police were delighted by the two-for-one opportunity to destroy both a woman and a Jew.

The beauty of Jewish multicultural consciousness is that it inherently teaches there is no us/them. Jews are an integral part of the fabric of every society and culture around the world. We are the connecting thread, the bridge between the gaps of humanity. When we step into this consciousness, we can transmute divisive thinking that currently plagues our world. And perhaps then, we can truly serve as a light unto the nations.


The post Why is the Ukraine war more Jewish than the Iranian uprising? A year after Mahsa Amini’s death, that should change. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

RSS

New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

Continue Reading

RSS

Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

Continue Reading

RSS

Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News