Constructing Ethnic Identities

Immigration, Festivals and Syncretism


This book deals with how, starting in the 1960s, immigrant groups in Israel constructed their ethnic identity by reviving their ethnic festivals and turning them into part of Israeli society. For the immigrants, these festivals serve as a collective “definitional ceremony,” with an intersection of ethnicity, culture, and identity. They also help them to develop cultural and religious syncretism. The discussion of their social and political leaders’ ethnic activism provides important insights about the ways in which immigrant leaders employ their ethnic tradition as a resource for mobilizing cultural, social, and political capital that will facilitate their penetration of the cultural mainstream.

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Prof. Rachel Sharaby, Ph.D. (1999), Bar Ilan University, is Head of the Sociology Department at Ashkelon Academic College. She has written many books and articles about immigration, ethnicity, identity, rituals, gender, intercultural encounters, and syncretism.

General Introduction
 1 Immigration: A State of Intoxication
 2 Immigrants’ Ethnic Awakening
 3 The Ethnic Competition for Symbolic Capital
 4 Rituals of Definition and Boundaries
 5 Syncretism: The Selection and Synthesis of Diverse Elements
 6 The Book’s Goals and Contribution

Part 1: The Mimouna: From the Periphery to the Center

1 Center/Periphery and Patterns of Protest
 1 Center-Periphery Relations: Theory
 2 Center-Periphery Relations in Israel
 3 Patterns of Protest
 4 The Goal of the Study

2 The Mimouna in North Africa: A Symmetry of Symbols
 1 The Festival’s Source and Name
 2 Preparations for the Festival
 3 The Ceremony of the First Dough
 4 The Mimouna Night Festivities at Home and in the Street
 5 The Excursion to the Countryside on Mimouna Day

3 The Mimouna in Israel—from a Sectoral Festivity to a National Holiday
 1 The 1950s and 1960s: The Secularization of the Festival
 2 The 1970s: Towards a More Religious Atmosphere
 3 The 1980s: Expansion of the Mimouna Night Activities
 4 The 1990s: The Inclusion of New Immigrants
 5 The New Century: The Celebrations Move into Event Halls
 6 2010–2020: The Younger Generation’s Mimouna

4 A Role Reversal: The Newcomers as Host and the Veterans as Guest
 1 A Display of Ethnicity with Messages of Fraternity
 2 A Fusion of Traditional and Modern Elements
 3 The Politicization of the Festivities
 4 The Factors that Led to the Renewal of the Mimouna

Conclusion: A Movement to the Center and Syncretism

Part 2: The Renewal of a Tradition: The Seharane in Israel

5 A Tradition and its Revival
 1 Tradition and Modernity: The Arena of the Encounter
 2 The Hermeneutic Aspect of the Study of Tradition
 3 Varieties of Modernity
 4 The Goals of the Research

6 The Seharane Festival in Kurdistan: Closing a Ritual Circle
 1 The Jewish Communities of Kurdistan
 2 The Transitional Ceremony at the End of the Eighth Day of Passover
 3 The Etymology of the Word “Seharane”
 4 Brotherhood in the Heart of Nature

7 Immigration and Settlement in Israel: The Loss of the Ethnic Identity
 1 Building the Country
 2 The “Ana Kurdi” Stereotype
 3 Seharane Celebrations in the Early Decades of Israel

8 The Attempts to Organize a National Seharane Festival in the 1970s
 1 1971: The Decision to Revive the Seharane
 2 1973: A Religious Controversy Leads to Cancellation of the Seharane
 3 1975: The Seharane is Canceled due to Budgetary Problems

9 The First Public Seharane Festival and its Resemblance to the Tradition
 1 The Seharane is Moved to Sukkot
 2 The Formalization of the Seharane Rituals
 3 The Younger Generation’s Ethnic Pride

10 The 1980s: The Seharane as the Arena of Political Clashes
 1 Highlighting the Community’s Achievements
 2 Menachem Begin Embraces the Seharane
 3 A Hundred and Seventy Years of Immigration from Kurdistan
 4 The Politicians Didn’t Show Up
 5 Teddy Kollek, Man of the Year
 6 Identification with the Kurdish People
 7 The Attempt to Merge the Seharane with the Mimouna
 8 Electioneering
 9 The Rift with Teddy Kollek was not Mended

11 The 1990s: A Return to Folk Traditions
 1 An Emphasis on the Community’s Achievements
 2 Pride in Favorite Son Yitzhak Mordecai
 3 Traditional Costume
 4 Benjamin Netanyahu Courts the Kurdish Vote
 5 No Political Speeches

12 The New Millennium: An Internal and Ritual Split
 1 Fifty Years since Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
 2 Yearning for the Past
 3 Messages of Peace and Unity
 4 The “Kurdish Footsteps” Festival and the Seharane
 5 Parallel Seharane Festivals
 6 Hakkafot in Sacher Park

13 The Last Decade: Decline and Retrenchment
 1 A Traveling Exhibit
 2 Stalls and a Jamboree
 3 Matchmaking at the Seharane
 4 A Semicircle of Dancers Moving like a Single Person
 5 The Seharane as the “Sukkot Festival”
 6 Proud Youngsters
 7 A Family and Ethnic Seharane
 8 The Seharane at the Festival of Nations

14 Discussion: An Ethnic Festival that Transcends Social Boundaries
 1 Identity Entrepreneurs
 2 In the Politicians’ Lap
 3 Interlinked Cultural Elements

Conclusion: Syncretism in the Revival of the Seharane

Part 3: The Seged: From a Small Place to a Large Place

1: The Seged in Ethiopia

15 Pilgrimage
 1 A Holy Place at the Center of the World
 2 A Movement to the Sacred Periphery and Anti-structure
 3 A Journey in the Footsteps of a Text
 4 The Goals of the Present Study

16 Community and Family Life in Ethiopia

17 The Seged
 1 Etymology and Meaning
 2 The Date of the Seged
 3 The Location of the Seged

18 The Seged Ritual in Ethiopia
 1 Stage I: The Journey to the Holy Place
 2 Stage II: The Rituals on the Mountain
 3 Stage III: The Descent from the Mountain and the Communal Banquet

19 Discussion
 1 The Link between Places and Times at the Seged
 2 Communitas and Structure on the Seged

2: The Seged in Israel

20 Identities in the Postmodern Age
 1 The Ethnic Identity of Immigrants
 2 The Second Generation and Generation 1.5
 3 Immigration Crises and the Difficulties Faced by Young People
 4 Social and Spiritual Leadership
 5 Goals of the Research

21 The Immigration of Ethiopian Jews and their Absorption in Israel
 1 The Ethiopian Jews’ Immigration to Israel
 2 Absorption in Israel
 3 The Doubts about their Jewishness and the Refusal to Recognize their Spiritual Leaders
 4 The Absorption of Young Ethiopian Jews in Israel

22 The 1980s: The Initial Model of the Seged in Israel
 1 Misgivings and Conflicts
 2 The Formalization of the Holiday

23 The 1990s: A Constructed and Political Ritual
 1 The Ceremony
 2 Activities in the Schools in Advance of the Holiday

24 The New Century: Cooperation among Organizations and the Campaign for Official Recognition of the Seged
 1 Resistance to Change and a New Religious Interpretation
 2 In Favor of Change and a Sociopolitical Interpretation
 3 Increasing the Turnout for the Seged
 4 Political Speeches
 5 A Jamboree for Teenagers
 6 Organized Activities to Attract the Younger Generation
 7 Protests at the Seged and the Campaign for its Recognition as a National Holiday

25 2010–2020: The Seged as a National Holiday
 1 The First Year after the Passage of the Seged Law
 2 The Opening Ceremony of the Seged at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem
 3 Holiday Events Spread over a Longer Time and in More Places
 4 The “Segediada” At the Cinemathèque
 5 The Holiday’s Relevance for all Jews
 6 Celebration of the Seged at the Knesset
 7 Other Meanings of the Seged
 8 A Story about the Journey
 9 Nostalgia for the Holiday as it was Observed in Ethiopia
 10 Concerts and Standup Comedy
 11 The Desire to Become Part of Israeli Society

Conclusion: The Seged in a Multigenerational Perspective

General Conclusions
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