Restoring Sephardic honor

According to a recent study, most Israelis do not categorize themselves today as Sephardic or Ashkenazic.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef poster 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef poster 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Sephardic issue made headlines again following the funeral last week of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who supposedly “returned honor to Sephardic Jews.”
So, does ethnic discrimination still exist in Israel? Of course it does.
Discrimination can still be seen in quite a few places. And yet, after 65 years, clearly the situation is dramatically different than it was in 1948.
More than half of children being born today in Israel are of mixed parentage, the product of a successful melting pot.
Take a look, for example, at how successful the Russian aliya has been.
They don’t complain, they just roll up their sleeves and get down to work.
Last week, while people were still talking heatedly about Amnon Levi’s show that dealt with the ongoing problem of discrimination, a thorough and important research study prepared by Prof. Momi Dahan was published that disproves this thesis.
Over the last 15 years, the gap between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in Israel has been reduced dramatically in almost all fields. A gap still exists, but it is negligible. We are pointed in the right direction and the pace is encouraging.
According to the study, most Israelis do not categorize themselves today as Sephardic or Ashkenazic.
They no longer live in a society that distinguishes between its residents in a way that Shas politicians and Amnon Levi would have us believe.
The gap in salaries between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews has decreased over the past 15 years from 40 percent to 25%, or 1 percentage point each year. The number of Sephardic Israelis in the top 5% rose dramatically; they are currently represented in this group in accordance with their percentage in the general population. In the bottom 5%, their numbers fell dramatically and amazingly enough, there are fewer Sephardic Israelis in the lowest percentile than their share of the population.
This important and serious research study confirms a simple reality: People who’ve clung to the mentality that Sephardic Jews still suffer discrimination have been left behind, whereas people who’ve decided to take responsibility for their own lives have advanced.
Shas’s political platform, which relies on people trying to hold on to their Sephardic “honor,” no longer seems relevant. When you insist on always talking about honor, instead of dealing with life, all you have at the end of the week is your honor – but no salary.
I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague, Ben Dror Yemini, who wrote this week that when Prof.
Amnon Rubinstein, as education minister in the mid-’90s, allowed academic colleges to open (and break the universities’ monopoly), he contributed to the narrowing of the gap much more than all of Shas’s actions together. This new relatively easy accessibility to higher education, combined with the dramatic entrance of Sephardic Jews into the workforce (mostly Sephardic women) are what really helped to rapidly cut the gap.
So are there still populations in Israel where a gap still exists? Yes, in the Arab and haredi communities.
Haredi Israelis – mostly the Sephardic ones – who spend all day talking about “restoring their honor” have in the meantime adopted the black hat and black coat dress of Lithuanian Jews. What kind of honor has Shas returned to the masses of Sephardic Jews who’ve begun behaving and dressing as if they’re living in European ghettos in the 19th century? This self-depreciation of the Sephardic yeshivas continues. Shas leaders send their own children to the Lithuanian yeshivas and not to the Sephardic ones. What kind of glory are they trying to return to by doing this? Did Arye Deri’s grandfather in Morocco wear a black hat? Did Eli Yishai’s great-grandfather in Tunis learn Talmud and commentary in an Ashkenazic dialect? If Shas really wanted to close the gap, it would encourage its members to study, to work and to contribute to the society, including serving in the army. This is exactly what Rabbi Haim Amsalem has been saying for years.
And it’s also why Shas threw him out like he was an old, useless dog.
There is still one hope that the Sephardic community can alter its fate – and her name is Adina Bar- Shalom, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s eldest daughter.
Bar-Shalom confirmed during a TV interview just last week: She is indeed considering going into politics. And I truly hope that she does. It will be a seminal event.
Our hope grows when we see the lists of haredi women running for city council in Elad, despite the harassment and hostility they suffer within their own communities. Or Ruth Koliyan, a young and courageous haredi mother of four who petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that political parties that don’t include women in their candidate lists be cut off from government appropriations. When Arye Deri laments that Shas women don’t want to perform at the front of the stage, he’s not telling the truth. Shas women are just as oppressed as women in Iran.Translated by Hannah Hochner.