When one feels like “the other” it is a surreal experience. Even more surreal is to feel like an outsider in a space that is so familiar. This is the Mizrahi experience in Ashkenazi Jewish communal spaces.
It is to worry that your tune for Kiddush Friday night will not be well recepted.
It is to worry that your ethnic foods will be written off.
It is to see a drastic difference between Jewish life at school and Jewish life at home.
And it is to be comforted by the fact that there is really more in common than what separate us.
It is found all over, in Jewish high schools, in Jewish camps, and even in university Hillels.
And granted there is no one directly at fault. From a sociological perspective, many of the Mizrahim are only first or second generation and therefore focus more attention on stabilizing in their new homes, according to Sharona Kaplan—UCLA’s JLIC Coordinator. It’s for this reason, we don’t see many Mizrahim taking positions in Ashkenazi spaces. They reach for more stable jobs, higher paying jobs, jobs that will give them a sense of security.
While Ashkenazi communities have been in the states for generations creating infrastructure, Mizrahi Jews have been stabilizing. Today, Jewish communal spaces are ashkinormative. Give it two or three generations and there will be an undoubted influx of new Mizrahi contributions to Jewish communal spaces leading to a shift in what these communal spaces may look like—and it has already begun!
In the meantime, the message to the Mizrahi community is to get involved and to stay involved.