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Often when someone in America would say Sephardic, they would be referring to someone from one of those communities, where the women marry young — usually older men who work in cash businesses such as shmattas or electronics — and the men look for a traditional “girl” to be a stay-at-home mom.Little did I know that my girlfriend was just as bad.As a secular Israeli who fought the stranglehold of my country’s rabbinical institutions, it was something with which I could not live.“It’s not the same,” I told her.“I discriminated against you, personally, and you discriminated against a whole race of people.”Who is worse: Her for discriminating against Sephardim as a group, or me for discriminating against an individual that doesn’t share my religious beliefs? We recently married and settled on a semi-kosher household (read: we don’t have bacon for breakfast).Yet I never heard people my own age make these differentiations.We tended to categorize people by their socioeconomic class: Were they educated, artists, upwardly mobile, yuppies or creative types?
My girlfriend’s friends would describe a date as “too Sephardic,” which I learned meant pushy, sleazy, aggressive.“Iraqis are like the Ashkenazim of the Sephardim,” she would add, explaining how her people were educated and modern, not like the others — implying how backwards other groups were.I’m sure that somewhere out there, a Moroccan or Tunisian or Egyptian mother was making the very same boast.What they were really asking me was, “How come you don’t behave Sephardic? In Israel, when people wanted to know where my family was from, the answer was easy: Both my parents came to Israel in 1951 as part of the “Iraqi Exodus,” where they quickly assimilated into the Israeli melting pot.
I was a first-generation Israeli and proud second-generation “Iraqi” — shorthand for urbane, even keeled and good with numbers.Moreover, the discrimination in Israel against the non-Ashkenazi immigrants from the 1950s through the 1970s was a thing of the past.