The Israeli flag may be blue and white, but the Jewish flag is akin to Joseph’s multi-color coat. It’s really quite apparent when one contemplates today’s Israeli Jewish society.
Kibbutz galuyot, the “in-gathering of the exiles” which we are experiencing, is an amazing phenomenon. With the establishment of the State of Israel, and for many from Arab countries because of the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews from all over the world are finding their way home. Israel has become a Jewish United Nations. So, as an olah from the United States, where most Jewish communities are fairly homogeneous, it’s very interesting to see the many black Jews from Ethiopia and the Bnei Menashe from India with Asian features and complexion, or to walk around my neighborhood discovering the many different shuls (synagogues) representing Jews of different countries and different customs, and even to see the Russian grocery stores catering to the large Russian population in Rehovot. It’s all so “exotic” and interesting (right along with the ubiquitous palm trees and date honey). As for us, Americans and English speakers, we are part of the Anglo community here, comprising fellow Jews from Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa.
This in-gathering, however, is not easy and too many stories abound of the difficulties and barriers many have encountered in trying to become part of the Jewish people here. We are united as “one people with one heart” – am echad b’lev echad – yet we are so different, even alien, to one another. Spread out over the world for thousands of years we speak different languages, have developed different customs, are products of the different cultures of our adopted lands; some of us come from developed countries, others from underdeveloped ones, even from hostile nations. So much change, confusion, and even prejudice for the new immigrants as well as for those already here. This “getting-to-know-you” period is long and hard.
I used to imagine that G-d would magically fly us to Israel at the time of redemption, on the wings of an eagle (although I didn’t know how all those eagles would manage to hold us – another miracle, I figured) or at the very least that some miracle at the time of Mashiach would instantly relocate us to the other side of the world – all of us – all at once.
I realized, however, G-d’s wisdom in orchestrating this slow immigration of diaspora Jews to Israel. This allows Israel to absorb and deal with the issues presented by each different wave of immigrants, for the people to get used to each other (more or less) before the next wave. We’re having such a hard time getting along and getting used to each other as it is – imagine if we all “dropped in” at the same time. It would not be a pretty story.
There are many groups who have had or still have difficulties finding their place in Israeli society, who have overcome, and are still trying to overcome the barriers they face. I found the story The Brothers al-Kuwaiti recounted in Jewish Ideas Daily by Aryeh Tepper, particularly indicative of this slow, but ultimately successful, process of integration. Daoud and Salah al-Kuwaiti were popular musicians in Iraq, favorites of the royal family. When Saddam Hussein came to power, Jewish musicians were not appreciated and their names disappeared from Iraq’s musical heritage. When the al-Kuwaitis fled to Israel in 1951 they were no longer respected musicians.
… When they arrived in the reborn Jewish state, a small country straining under a doubling of its population in the first few years after independence, they were placed with the rest of the Iraqi Jewish refugees in a temporary tent camp.
If the change in physical circumstances was extreme, the cultural transition was no less difficult. In Iraq the brothers had belonged to the elite; in Israel they were relatively unknown. Moreover, the regnant cultural ethos in those early decades of state-building called for fashioning a “new Jew” by “negating the Diaspora”; the Diaspora emphatically included the world with which the music of the al-Kuwaitis was associated. Worse still, that music was by definition identified with the culture of Israel’s arch-enemies.
…the al-Kuwaitis’ experience in Israel was representative of the fate of many in that transitional generation, marginalized from within and erased from without, their culture lost somewhere in-between.
Because of the circumstances in which they found themselves, the al-Kuwaiti brothers did not want their children involved with music at all. Daoud’s grandson Dudu (David) Tassa, however, has reclaimed his (and Daoud and Salah’s) Iraqi musical heritage with his group Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis.
… Melding the old and the new, Tassa’s interpretation of the original Iraqi sound is an exercise in generational bridge-building, reflecting an increasingly common desire among many Israelis to explore the cultures their grandparents were compelled to set aside as part of their absorption process. Not Ben-Gurion’s “negation of the Diaspora,” this is rather an “ingathering of the exiles,” an ingathering that includes the cultures of the exiles.
Perhaps most significantly, Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis can be seen as an expression of Israeli cultural self-confidence—of liberation from the idea that Western styles are the sole criterion of good music. Israel is, after all, the place where Jewish communities have come together from all over the world, and it is only natural that its music should reflect the resulting synthesis.
It’s articles like the above that describe how the colorful flag of the nation’s Jews is slowly unfurling as our brothers and cousins, Jews of all different colors, features, and nationalities, find their way in Israel.