Tag Archives: religion

A Sephardic Jew: Why discriminate against this person?

19 Oct

emmanuelle chriqui

The man whom I will call the Martin Luther King of Israel has died at 93.

He was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leader in politics and religion.

It is doubtful anyone else has compared him to the American civil rights leader, but that’s how I see it. Just as there is black and white in America, in Israel there is Sephardic and Ashkenazi. The Sephardim are the underdogs. Rabbi Yosef was their advocate and protector.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Most Americans think of Israeli Jews as homogenous. This is because most American Jews are of European descent, which makes them Ashkenazi. Overlooked and mostly out of sight in the U.S. are the Sephardim, who are Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. This group has more in common with Arab culture than with European culture, hence the dichotomy and the basis for discrimination.

It is dangerous for a non-Jew, such as myself, to write about the social fabric of Judaism, especially when the writer has never been to Israel and never witnessed the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  So let it be known that I write with interest rather than authority.

It is of little consequence here, but a casual friend is a Sephardic American. He has never mentioned the word in my presence, nor has he ever discussed any difference between himself and any other Jew. His ancestors are from Morocco. His mother lives in France, is very refined, quite fashionable and appears wealthy. She reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. These things are all counter to the negative stereotype of the Sephardim, which I learned of only through television.

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

I wish I could remember the name of the film, or on which channel it appeared. I would link to it to see if you found it as shocking as I. It was shot in Israel and documented the perception of the Sephardim by the Ashkenazim. Some of the dialogue could have been overlaid on a film about white and black Americans.

For example, many Ashkenazi, in a nod to tolerance, said the Sephardim are hip and cool and fun; that they set trends and styles. Some said they have friends who are Sephardic. Still, in subsequent conversations, they said Sephardic Jews are mostly poor, crude, criminal and not so intelligent.

Clearly, social barriers have been set. This was confirmed for me when I read Rabbi Yosef obituary.

Other comments didn’t parallel the black-white struggle in America, like the disgust shown for the Sephardim who watch Arab movies.

Basically, the documentary illustrates how the one group considers the other inferior and beneath them. Overall, the impression was that the Sephardim were just too much like Arabs.

The irony here is that so were Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

Indeed, recent genetic testing has shown that the Ashkenazim may be far off the Hebrew bloodline. It was originally thought that the Jewish communities in Europe originated with men and women from the Near East.  Now it has been shown genetically that the ancestral roots of the Ashkenazim are in the union of non-Jewish European women and traveling Jewish traders.

Although the comparison between blacks and whites in America is somewhat accurate – an Israeli court, for example, had to force the integration of Sephardic and Ashkenazi school children — this intra-Jewish problem has additional layers of complexity. Unlike in America, differences in religious practices also keep the Jewish groups apart.

I referred to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as the Martin Luther King of Israel, but, unlike King, he was for school segregation in the court case I mentioned. Religion, it seems, was taught at the school in question, and Rabbi Yosef wanted only pure and accepted Sephardic doctrine taught to the children of his followers, not a diluted, blended brand taught in a mixed school.

Religion aside, the life and work of Rabbi Ovadia – like those of Dr. King — indicate the pervasive need of Homo sapiens to form tight groups of very like people, to preach group superiority and to categorize others – even those who could easily be accepted into the group – as inferior and unworthy of advancement. It shows the incredible need to hold back rather than lift up.

What is the basis for this need?

Limited resources? Limited positions of power? Intrinsic insecurity? General nastiness? The necessity to have enemies as a motivating force for survival and civilization building?

Because of their differences, and because of our shortcomings as a species, it seems almost understandable that there is tension between blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs (even thought they are both Semitic people), liberals and conservatives. But why does each group draw circles within their circles to set even more people apart?

How can we solve global conflict when the people on the north side of Chicago distrust those on the south side?

The Jews possess a unique place in history as one of the first cultures – perhaps the first – to take stock of itself and say, “We are barbarians. This is unacceptable.”

For now and always, the People of The Book have documented their epic struggle for the perfect, enlightened society. Through darkness and light, catastrophe and near destruction, triumph, dire warnings, dire consequences and rebirth, they have never ceased to strive with God and themselves.

One would think that by now such a people could get along with themselves; that such a people might actually be the ones to bring peace to the entire Earth.

Who better?

While we wait for a new prophet, I would hope that all will soon dispense with finding disgust over another person simply because of his taste in movies.

Rest in peace, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

 

Advertisements

When faith creates an NBA fan

18 Feb

An old chum called the other day. He’s the kind of guy who has retained the quirks and traits of youth while transforming into something foreign.

We don’t see much of each other anymore; it’s usually by chance at the supermarket. He’s had more than a few troublesome twists in his life, and they seem to get worse with the years.

He doesn’t have a TV and he called to ask if he could come over to watch Jeremy Lin play basketball. Lin is a guard for the New York Knicks; an undrafted, unheralded Harvard grad who came off the bench and is credited with putting his team on a winning streak, and doing it with style. As an Asian-American, his presence in the NBA makes him stand out.

“I don’t remember you being a basketball fan,” I said.

“I’m not,” he answered. “But this guy is a sensation … and he’s a Christian.”

I paused.

“Aren’t most of the NBA players Christian?” I asked.

He paused.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the dominant religion in America is Christianity. I assume the majority of the NBA players are Christian.”

“Jeremy Lin practices his faith,” my old friend said.

My inclination was to start an argument, asking if it was his Christian duty to judge the entire NBA.

But I didn’t.

I let it go and told him I’d to be happy to watch the next televised Knicks game with him.

“As long as it’s not on Sunday,” he said. He won’t watch TV on the Sabbath. (Would he think less of Lin for playing on the Sabbath?)

Afterward, I pondered his use of the word “faith,” which from my perspective on language I find odd. Why do Christians and member of other religions need to have faith? In the secular life we either believe something or we don’t, or maybe we admit we just don’t know. A Republican who claims lower taxes spur economic growth doesn’t require faith.

He or she simply believes it.

Why can’t Jeremy Lin and my friend just believe in what they espouse – that Christ is the divine savior who rose from the dead? Needing faith suggests doubt.

“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true,” Mark Twain said.

I have no doubt in my spiritual beliefs. That’s because they are my own. I’ve no need to take the dogma of others and cram it into my value system. I’m comfortable discarding what I don’t like or what doesn’t seem logical.

My religion is my own. I’ve crafted it.

In a piece I’m writing, I recommend others do the same. And I offer my view of a creator who has put the universe in motion based on a complex probability formula that ensures both free will and a pre-determined outcome.

The plan operates on its own, like a machine. There is no divine intervention. No corrections or adjustments. God does not help the Jews in battle.

After all, why would a perfect being have to intervene in something it created perfectly? That suggests imperfection.

Comments on this idea are appreciated and could help with the direction of my writing. I’d especially like to hear from Christians, of which I claim to be one.

Go Jeremy Lin!

%d bloggers like this: