Born in Algeria to Moroccan Jewish parents, Erez Biton came to Israel as a child, grew up in the town of Lod near Israel’s main airport, and lost his sight at age ten when he stumbled on an explosive most likely left behind by Arab infiltrators. The boy grew up to become modern Israel’s first great Mizrahi poet. Mitch Ginsburg describes his work:
Biton’s first two books of poetry, released in 1976 and 1979, were a radical departure from the norm. In his debut collection, “Minhah Marokayit” (Moroccan Offering), he wrote of shopping on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, of the polite, fashionable Hebrew necessary there, how it is unsheathed upon demand, and of his return, toward darkness, to the periphery, and “to the other Hebrew.” He wrote of Moroccan weddings and of winter mornings “against broken blinds”; he spiced his poetry with his mother tongue, Arabic, and wrote often of Jews and Arabs living their lives together in Morocco.
The most evocative and jolting poem for its time was called “Zohra El Fassia”—the tale of a Jewish Moroccan singer about whom “It is said that when she sang / Soldiers drew knives / To push through the crowds / And touch the hem of her dress / Kiss her fingertips / Express their thanks with a rial coin.” Biton met her when he was a social worker in Ashkelon, . . . and his depiction of her home and her predicament . . . captured a sentiment about the losses of [Mizrahi] Jewry that was not yet acceptable in mainstream Israeli society.