Sepharadi women in Israel: Identity, family and change

Claire Rabin, Tali Lahav

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Israel is a “melting pot” society. The challenges of integrating a large number of immigrants from all over the world has not been without its price. The subsuming of cultural variety within the dominant cultural identity has been especially oppressive for people of color. The dominant cultural identity is white, European, and Western in orientation. Jews from North Africa, Yemen, India, Iraq or Iran have been marginalized by a subtle racism rarely discussed openly. Recently people of color have been “coming out of the closet” in Israel. Public figures, politicians and artists are uncovering how racism has played a part in their lives. Jewish Sephardic women have suffered the effects of both racism (due to their dark skin color) and sexism due to patriarchal elements still existing in the context of modern Israel. Coming from varied non-Western cultures (North African, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and India) that are highly patriarchal and male-dominant, these women experience the impact of social change perhaps more than any other group. This paper will discuss issues related to feminine identity of Jewish Sephardic women of color in Israel. We will propose identity strategies that these women have used in order to create continuity of identity despite oppressive racism and sexism. Two brief vignettes demonstrate how different women use different identity strategies. Some women of color maintain their traditional ethnic and feminine identity expected of her as a woman, spouse and mother. Other women reject their ethnic and feminine identity and adopt Western roles through personal achievement and autonomy. For those in the helping professions, understanding how ethnic identity issues relates to emotional distress can be helpful. Two detailed case descriptions are presented which show the dilemmas of treating women from traditional ethnic groups. Western society developed the concept of “therapy,” often replacing the clergy, the clan elders and anyone representing moral codes, examples of behavior, the old lore and the traditional healers of traditional Jewish culture. As such, therapy poses a threat to women from traditional cultures within a Western oriented “modern” society. The importance of family to Sephardic women is discussed in light of the previous discussion related to identity and with regard to issues related to treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-46
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Feminist Family Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 18 Oct 2001


  • Change
  • Family
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Israel
  • Sepharadi women


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