book reviews
book tour
contributors bios
discussion group
media appearances
press release
purchase book
anthology summaries

Anthology Summaries

Farideh Dayanim-Goldin
"Feathers and Hair"
In preparation for her cousin Farnoush's wedding, young Farideh Dayanim joined a group of family women plucking chickens for the feast. Little did she know that in the room adjacent to the kitchen, the bandandaz was plucking the bride's body hair. The women in the kitchen were almost at the end of the pile of chickens, when Farideh heard heart-wrenching screams coming from her cousin and ululations of women covering the screams. She jumped up to help, when her mother pulled her down with a knowing smile on her face. What was going on? No one seemed to want to talk about it. Instead, the women in the kitchen joined the other women ululating, to help drown out the screams...
Ruth Knafo-Setton
"The Life and Times of Ruth of the Jungle"
Ruth was the only family member allowed on Sa'adia's rooftop paradise, where he kept fifty pigeons in two brass cages. The cage doors were left open, the way the doors to the mella ­ the Jewish ghetto ­ were left open. At a whim, Sa'adia could lock in the birds, and the Sultan could lock in the Jews. Seeking a new life free of harassment, the Knafo family fled to America and tried to pass as French Christians...until Ruth's aunt, psychotic from years of beatings and humiliation by her anti-Semitic husband, followed Ruth and her sister like a witch out of horror movies, crying, Jews! Morocco! They're lying! Jews! Morocco!²
Gina Bublil-Waldman
"Souvenir From Libya"
As Libya turned against its Jewish citizens in a campaign of rape, murder, and destruction, nineteen-year-old Gina Bublil and her family boarded an empty bus to the airport, in a desperate attempt to flee. In a remote area outside the city, the bus driver stopped and poured gasoline around the perimeter of the vehicle, attempting to set it on fire. Gina raced off the bus and pushed past the burly men standing in her way, in a bold plan to save her family's lives.
Julie Iny
"Ashkenazi Eyes"
My mom is from Missouri and my dad is from India,² she replied. Indiana?² he asked, confused. No. India.² she clarified. As Julie mapped out her father's migration from Iraq to India, David informed her that Mizrahim (North African/Middle Eastern Jews) are violent, racist, and greedy, in contrast to civilized Ashkenazim (Northern European Jews). Feeling suddenly paralyzed, disembodied, and violated, Julie realized that yet again, her hazel-green eyes and light skin crossed her over the border and into hostile territory, where she was accepted only if she gave up half of her self.
Bahareh Mobasseri-Rinsler
Purim is a holiday celebrating the liberation of Jews in the Persian Empire. Central to the story are two women, Vashti and Esther. Queen Vashti outright and publicly defies the king and subsequently is punished with exile. Esther ­ a beautiful, virtuous, and self-sacrificing Jew ­ is chosen to replace Vashti. Bahareh Mobasseri-Rinsler challenges the Esther-Vashti dichotomy as the classic virgin-whore split and explores the ways in which Iranian Jewish girls are brought up in the cult of Esther.² Bahareh raises the flag of sexual rebellion, embracing Vashti's passion.
Yael Arami
"A Synagogue of One's Own"
Whether teaching older women to read the prayers at her Yemenite-Israeli synagogue, or refusing to wait on the men in her family during the Sukkoth holiday, Yael Arami's defiance challenges divisions between religious observance and feminism. Well-versed in ancient Jewish law and ritual, and the first Yemenite woman to receive rabbinical training, Yael leads the way for the newly-forming religious Mizrahi feminist movement.
Rachel Wahba
"Benign Ignorance or Persistent Resistance?"
The daughter of an Egyptian Jewish refugee father and an Iraqi Jewish refugee mother, Rachel Wahba was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. Throughout her life, she clung with fervor to the only identity she had: Jew.² When she immigrated to the United States as a young adult, however, she found herself rejected by the very community to which she clung. Unable to fathom a dark-skinned Jew who had strange, exotic² ways and did not speak Yiddish, American Jews refused to accept Rachel as one of their own. Standing tall as an Arab Jewish lesbian, Rachel demands recognition and inclusion on all fronts.
Ella Shohat, Tikva Levy, Mira Eliezer
"Mizrahi Women in Israel"
At the Tenth National Feminist Conference in Israel, harsh confrontations broke out between the Mizrahi participants and the conference leaders ­ confrontations parallel to those that broke out in the late 1970s and 1980s between African-American women and American feminist leadership. Ella Shohat, Tikva Levy, and Mira Eliezer led the way in challenging the hegemony of Ashkenazi women in their formulation of feminist theory; their attempts to silence Mizrahi women; and their attempts to distance from leadership Mizrahi feminists who would not accept the thinking and strategy of Ashkenazi feminists.
Mojgan Moghadam-Rahbar
After Hayat gave birth to her fourth daughter, Yahya put together an ancient herbal formula for having a son. The formula worked repeatedly for himself and others, and everyone began demanding it: couples who were desperate to have sons, because they had too many² daughters; couples who had sons but wanted more; and women who wanted to avoid the evil tongue and gossip of their in-laws, as well as the cold shoulders of their husbands, should they not produce sons during their first pregnancies. When an overdose killed a mother-to-be, the formula was finally put to rest. But three generations later, as Hayat and Yahya's great-granddaughter Mojgan scanned the women's faces at her son's circumcision, she knew that times had not really changed.
Kyla Wazana Tompkins
"Home is Where You Make It"
From the African Students and Arab Students groups on her college campus, to an International Gay and Lesbian Jewish Conference, Kyla Wazana Tompkins navigates non-stop through the world of identities. The daughter of Irish Catholic and Moroccan Jewish immigrants to Canada, Kyla defies our stereotypes and pushes our comfort zones, challenging us to re-examine perceptions of who we are in relation to each other.
Hanriette Dahan Kalev
"Illusion in Assimilation"
You're so pretty; you don't look Moroccan.² Hanriette Dahan Kalev heard this statement repeatedly since immigrating from Morocco to Israel in 1949, when she was an infant. She learned two lessons from this experience: 1) the more European/less Moroccan she could be, the better; 2) with her green eyes and light skin, she had the ability to pass. So pass she did. From a very young age, Hanriette built up an illusion of who she was ­ a young French girl. She erased her Arabic accent; she never invited friends home; and she learned everything she could about French history, culture, and language. She kept up this charade until the day she looked in a mirror and saw nothing there.
Homa Sarshar
"In Exile at Home"
For two days in a row in October 1978, renown journalist Homa Sarshar was informed there were no reports for her to translate for Keyhan, the daily paper in Tehran. For two days in a row, French reports somehow appeared in the paper. On the third day, Homa confronted the editor of news services. What are you thinking, little girl?² he spat angrily, hatred filling his eyes. You think they're going to let some Jew translate reports on Ayatollah Khomeini? And a woman Jew at that? The news will be defiled!² Shocked and humiliated, Homa cleared out her desk and left her work of 12 years. As she drove home, she had the sinking feeling that it was time to leave Iran and that the 2,500 year history of Jews in Persia had just come to an abrupt halt.
Caroline Smadja
"The Search to Belong"
Surrounded by Tunisian Jews of her parents' generation, Caroline Smadja grew up with other people's memories and gestures, from a home that was lost. Family friends added spice, laughter, and boundless animation wherever they went. They told stories that made Caroline and her sister collapse in giggles on the floor. They cut each other off constantly, accompanied each sentence with wide hand gestures, and peppered their exchanges with Judeo-Arabic exclamations. They had a sense of belonging that Caroline could never feel among her peers in France. In search of her own place to call home, Caroline began a lifetime journey crossing the sites, sounds, and cultural textures of four continents, ultimately realizing she may never find that illusive sense of belonging.
Ella Shohat
"Reflections of an Arab Jew"
War is the friend of binarisms, leaving little place for complex identities. The Gulf War intensified a pressure already familiar to the Arab Jewish Diaspora in the wake of the Arab-Israeli conflict: a pressure to choose between being a an Arab and being a Jew. Ella Shohat's personal narrative questions this Euro-centric opposition of Arab and Jew, particularly the denial of Arab Jewish voices, both in the North African/Middle Eastern and American contexts.
Lital Levy
"The Flying Camel"
Lital Levy spent her 26th birthday at an academic conference addressing unity between Arabs and Jews. The featured movie told the story of a European-Israeli professor and a Palestinian sanitation worker, united in a common quest to restore the famous statue of the Flying Camel, symbol of the Tel Aviv of pre-State Palestine. Their efforts were thwarted when the camel's wings were located on a statue in possession of the Angels, a Mizrahi family that refused to relinquish the wings. The Angels ­ dark, stupid, and violent ­ were stereotypical, pejorative representations of Mizrahim. Distraught by the movie, Lital Levy uses the images of the film as a multi-layered metaphor. She explores the displacement of the hybrid category of Arab Jew and questions what is at stake in putting that category back together again. She links her experiences in America and in Israel, revealing the difficult process of self re-memberment.
Loolwa Khazzoom
"We Are Here, and This Is Ours"
In 1996, Loolwa Khazzoom flew from the U.S.A. to Israel to attend the first feminist conference for indigenous African and Middle Eastern Jewish women. Throughout this conference, multiple identity issues came to a head, resulting in numerous confrontations and a violent shouting match, where women stormed out. Documenting and evaluating these conflicts, Loolwa shares Mizrahi feminist perspectives on complex and volatile issues such as the Arab-Israel conflict, religious-secular battles, and tensions between East and West. She holds out the torch for hope that Mizrahi Jewish women will finally be recognized for who they are and that they will have a space to call their own.


contact anthology