Congregation Har Shalom explores the Mizrachi and Sephardi experience


(Notice! This event has postponed to a future date due to the featured speaker contracting COVID-19.) 

Mijal Bitton
Mijal Bitton (Courtesy of Congregation Har Shalom)

Rabbi Adam Raskin said he grew up in an “Ashkenazi bubble.” It’s something he feels is true of most Jews living in the United States. But last summer’s protests against systemic racism and police brutality led him to reflect on the experiences of Jews of color, like Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews. It’s these communities that will be the focus of a weekend of learning at Raskin’s synagogue, Congregation Har Shalom, in Potomac.

Mijal Bitton, a sociologist specializing in the Sephardi community and scholar in residence at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, will be the guest speaker. Raskin met her two years ago when he was studying at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“Not all Jews are Ashkenazi. Not all Jews are of Russian or Polish descent, and really the Jewish community is much more textured than that,” Raskin said. “What we’re trying to do with this particular scholar-in-residence weekend is to address the idea that it’s very easy for American Jews to assume a certain bubble. There’s a whole bunch of Ashkenazi cultural assumptions, because most American Jews are from Ashkenazi backgrounds. So the goal is to expand people’s awareness of the rich diversity of the Jewish community and to understand some of the contributions and the uniqueness of those different approaches to Jewish culture and tradition.

“I love to share with my congregation the people who inspire me and who I have the opportunity to learn with,” Raskin said. “I went to her sessions, and I really was enthralled by both her subject matter as well as her presentation style.”

Bitton, a founder of Downtown Minyan in New York City, said she appreciated Raskin’s invitation to speak and looks forward to bringing awareness about a part of the Jewish community that can often go overlooked.

“I was excited that our communities are becoming more sensitive and more eager to learn more about the different, diverse manifestations of Jewishness,” she said.

Bitton’s first Zoom lecture is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. It will focus on Mizrachi Jews — Jews from the Middle East and North Africa — Israel and Zionism. Bitton said she plans to look at ways in which Israel and Zionism have included or marginalized Mizrachi Jews.

The second lecture, on Feb. 21 at 10 a.m., will explore diversity, equity and inclusion as they relate to Sephardi Jews — Jews whose ancestry goes back to Spain before the expulsion of 1492 — in the United States.

She said she wants her audience to come away understanding that, not only are Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews not the same, but there are differences within these communities.

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