Avram Piha stumbles upon instances of lingering discrimination and prejudice in Israeli life - such as the derogatory term 'frank' for French-speaking North African Jews. But voting for the Sephardi orthodox Shas party is no solution. There's nothing that education, that perennial Jewish value, can't iron out. He blogs in the Times of Israel:
It was just another debate in my office. Opinions were flying, and one coworker uttered something that floored me: “I would be devastated if my children married Mizrachim.” I just looked at him. I wasn’t sure how to respond, and don’t remember how I did in the end … but it bothered me for a while. Was this train of thought common in Israel amongst the various ethnic groups?
On my drive to work, I stopped and offered a guy a tremp (hitchhike). He asked me how I was, and I responded, “Exhausted, slichot just started.” He looked at me, “Are you a frank?” I just stared at him in disbelief. Now, had he said this before the elections of this past year, I’d have had no idea that this term is a derogatory one for Sefardim and Mizrachim. However, when Yair Lapid almost blurted out the whole word on a live television interview when discussing the population Shas helps, it became a topic of discussion and I learned the meaning. I pretended it hadn’t bothered me, and continued the conversation. He probably didn’t mean it that way…
A four-part series by Amnon Levy recently aired over the past few weeks discussing the racism Mizrachim suffered in the 1950s and if it influences their lives today, and those of their families. Thankfully, what happened in the early days of the state has lessened dramatically, but the phenomenon is sadly still here. (There were a few editorials about how Ethiopians suffer far more due to racism – this is sadly true, but it doesn’t mean that the issues raised by Levy’s show are not relevant). The show raised some very disturbing issues, but what really hit me hard was teenagers saying that they couldn’t see themselves as doctors or lawyers and that they lacked the opportunity to get that far even if they wanted to. It was these comments early in the first episode that highlighted to me the way to start resolving the issue.
It’s not important who’s to blame for what happened, and the various issues we see today – that attitude just creates unnecessary tension and friction in this country. The fact is that both “sides” have to adjust their thinking to ensure that this is the last generation during which we see these gaps. I say this with the utmost respect, but Mizrachi parents have to push their kids to shoot for the stars – like those who went to France, or the US, or Africa during the ‘50s instead of to Israel. Yes, wrong was done to them here and did hold them back, but that doesn’t mean today’s generation needs to be weighed down by it; they can reach their potential in whatever field they choose. Jews for centuries have placed a heavy emphasis on education, and that has seen us survive and flourish regardless of environment. This is as much the key now as it was in the past.