This Week’s Guest: Matti Friedman
In the American Jewish imagination, the story of Israel’s founding is a story of East European pioneers, socialist kibbutzim, and a Jewish state rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. All of these things are indispensable elements of Israel’s early history. But they are not the whole picture.
After the founding of the state, Israel absorbed a massive influx of Jews from Middle Eastern lands who came from a society much different from that of their East European co-religionists. These Jews, known as Mizraḥim, are also a core part of the story of the Jewish state: they now represent over half of Israel’s Jewish population, profoundly shaping the culture, religion, and politics of 21st-century Israel.
In 2014, the author and journalist Matti Friedman wrote an essay for Mosaic, “Mizrahi Nation,” in which he told the story of these Jews from Arab lands and insisted that contemporary Israel cannot be understood without taking them into serious consideration. Not only that: Israel, Friedman argued, is a much more Middle Eastern country than many Jews in the West imagine it to be.
Now, in this podcast five years later, Friedman joins Jonathan Silver to look back on his essay. Together they discuss the long and remarkable history of Mizraḥi Jews, how these Jews have shaped the Jewish state, and how understanding the Mizraḥi role in Israel’s past and present can give us a clearer picture of the nation’s future.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof and “Above the Ocean” by Evan MacDonald.
Every Thursday, the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic will bring to your car/earbuds/home stereo/Alexa the latest in our efforts to advance Jewish thought. For more on the new podcast, check out our inaugural post here.
If you have thoughts about the podcast that you’d like to share, ideas for future guests and topics, or any other form of feedback, just send us an email at [email protected]. We’re grateful for your support, and we look forward to a new year of great conversations on Jewish essays and ideas.