More Mizrahim in Israeli education, committee advises
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More Mizrahim in Israeli education, committee advises

Suggestions include heritage trips to Morocco and Spain, TV series on Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, and university departments on Middle Eastern Jewry

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (right) shakes hands with Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton after receiving a committee's recommendation on increasing Mizrahi education in Israeli schools, on July 7, 2016. (Courtesy: Education Ministry)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (right) shakes hands with Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton after receiving a committee's recommendation on increasing Mizrahi education in Israeli schools, on July 7, 2016. (Courtesy: Education Ministry)

A committee tasked with better incorporating Mizrahi Jewish culture and history in Israel’s education system handed its recommendations to Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday.

Among the suggestions were the production of a documentary series chronicling the legacy of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewry and sponsoring school heritage trips to Spain and Morocco.

Formed at the beginning of the year, the panel, headed by Israel Prize laureate Erez Biton, aimed to determine ways to balance Israel’s educational curricula to include greater emphasis on the story of Jews from Muslim lands. For decades, the curricula have been criticized for an allegedly biased emphasis on European, or Ashkenazi, Jewish history, to the neglect of Sephardi and Mizrahi traditions and cultures — those of Spain and Muslim lands.

The committee submitted its recommendations to the ministry, which said it would devise a plan of action.

“After 68 years, we’re righting a historic injustice,” Bennett said in a statement after receiving the report. “The students of Israel will learn the entire Zionist and Jewish story, including the rich heritage of Mizrahi Jews.”

“I wish to repair, to change. Not only for the members of the Mizrahi communities, but also for my own children,” he said.

The report called for greater inclusion of Mizrahi and Sephardi literature, history and tradition in classrooms; television programming on the cultural contributions and history of eastern Jewry; and the establishment of a national day honoring the Jews of Muslim lands. Moreover it called for greater research and study of Mizrahi Judaism in higher education, greater inclusion of Mizrahi Jews in the Council of Higher Education, and the naming of institutions and streets after Mizrahi figures.

“I’m excited to open for our students a window toward beauty they haven’t yet encountered,” committee chair Biton said in a statement.

“The report and recommendations are a statement of legitimacy to a valid Mizrahi identity, without taking anything away from the current Israeli identity,” he said, “Bennett has given a historic meaning by establishing the committee. This is the first time since the creation of the state that this opportunity has been given – it’s exceptional.”

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