Laura Barkel

Mizrachi Heritage Month and My Family’s Journey

In honour of today being the last day of November, I thought to honour Mizrachi Heritage Month. The history of Mizrachi Jews is a complex narrative that spans centuries and encompasses a diverse range of experiences, traditions, and challenges. Mizrachi Jews are descendants of Jewish communities that resided in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Central Asia. The term “Mizrachi” itself means “Eastern” in Hebrew, reflecting the geographical origins of these communities.

Historically, Mizrachi Jewish communities were integral parts of the societies in which they lived, contributing to the cultural, economic, and intellectual life of the broader region. The roots of Mizrachi Jewry trace back to ancient times, with Jewish communities thriving in places such as Babylon (modern-day Iraq), Persia (modern-day Iran), and throughout the Arab world.

One significant historical event that had a profound impact on Mizrachi Jews was the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. In the years surrounding Israel’s independence, many Mizrachi Jews faced political and social upheaval in their countries of origin. The nascent state actively encouraged Jewish immigration, leading to the migration of a substantial number of Mizrachi Jews to Israel. This mass migration, known as the Mizrachi Exodus, brought with it a diverse range of cultural influences and traditions that have since contributed significantly to the mosaic of Israeli society.

Mizrachi Jews brought their rich cultural heritage, including distinctive music, cuisine, language, and religious practices, adding layers of diversity to Israel’s social fabric. However, the integration of Mizrachi immigrants into Israeli society was not always seamless, and they faced challenges in adjusting to a new cultural and social context.

Over the years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of preserving and promoting Mizrachi heritage. Efforts have been made to document the history, traditions, and contributions of Mizrachi Jews, both within Israel and globally. Scholars, cultural institutions, and community organizations have worked to amplify Mizrachi voices, challenging historical oversights and ensuring that the narrative of Jewish history is more inclusive and accurate.

Understanding Mizrachi history involves acknowledging both the richness of their contributions to the regions they once called home and the complexities they faced during times of migration and resettlement. It is a narrative that continues to evolve as Mizrachi communities assert their identity and contribute to the ongoing cultural and social tapestry of the Jewish diaspora. Delving into the personal realm, my family’s story mirrors the broader journey of Mizrachi Jews, encapsulating the resilience, challenges, and cultural vibrancy that define this diverse and storied heritage.

Below is an account from my grandfather, a first-generation Israeli, recounting his family’s experiences from his perspective: 

It was a vastly different era and an entirely different country back then. My awareness of the world began to take shape around the age of 4 or 5, although my understanding remained somewhat limited. The turning point for our family occurred in 1948 when they, displaying great courage, decided to immigrate to Israel. Carrying financial resources that proved pivotal, they were able to secure a modest two-bedroom apartment, marking the beginning of a new chapter.

I, born as the middle child among seven siblings, held a unique position in the family narrative—the first to be born in Israel. This move represented a profound chapter in our family’s history, embodying not only a change in location but also symbolizing hope and the pursuit of a better life in the Jewish homeland.

In contrast to this new chapter, life in Iraq for my parents, Aziza and Salim, was characterized by a sprawling extended family. Aziza, with her seven sisters and no brothers, and Salim, one of only two siblings with Eliyahu as his sole brother. Growing up in Iraq, they cultivated close ties with their extended families, bonds solidified by the challenging circumstances faced by Jewish people in the region. The community was tightly knit, a network where everyone knew each other, fostering a sense of belonging that made it feel like one large family.

However, the times were undeniably tough—scarce financial resources, limited access to education, and the overarching hardship of being Jewish in Iraq created a challenging environment. The decision to embark on a new life in Israel wasn’t merely a geographical relocation; it was a courageous leap towards a future defined by hope, resilience, and the pursuit of a better life.

Thankfully, the choice to move to Israel allowed my grandfather and his siblings to establish a wonderful life. This experience has deeply impacted my father and me, nurturing a strong affection for the country, even though we were born in Canada. 


In embracing the rich mosaic of my heritage, I am a proud Mizrachi Jew, cherishing the resilience and cultural wealth woven into my family’s journey. My roots, embedded in the complexities of life in Iraq and the courageous leap to Israel, form a testament to the strength and tenacity of Mizrachi Jewish identity. As I reflect on the past, present, and vibrant tapestry of my culture, I stand firm in my pride for where I come from, embodying the enduring spirit of Mizrachi Jews.

About the Author
Welcome to my blog, where I invite you to join me on the unique journey of my life as a Jewish, Israeli young adult living and pursuing an education in the city of Toronto. In this diverse and dynamic metropolis, I find myself at the intersection of my Israeli roots and the rich culture of Toronto. Through this blog, I aim to share the experiences, challenges, and triumphs that come with balancing my identity as a Jewish individual while navigating the multicultural landscape of this Canadian city. From the bustling streets of Toronto to the academic halls of my school, each day brings new opportunities for personal growth. I'll be documenting the moments of connection, the celebrations of my heritage, and the lessons learned along the way. As a young Israeli adult, I hope to delve into the fusion of traditions, exploring how my Jewish identity shapes my perspectives and influences my interactions in this multicultural environment. From holiday celebrations to engaging in dialogues that bridge different cultures, I'll share the stories that highlight the beauty of diversity and unity.
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