Before immigrating to Israel, first-generation Iraqi Jews were deeply attached to their identity as Mizrahi Jews. Their mother tongue was Arabic and they had grown up in an oriental environment. Therefore, it was not easy for them to adopt the Euro-Israeli identity that the dominant Ashkenazi-European stratum in Israel compelled them to accept. Despite strong Westernizing tendencies in Israeli society, the first generation of Iraqi Jewish immigrants maintained strong links to the Iraqi customs and traditions they had acquired in Iraq, particularly with regard to the musical folklore and oriental cuisine. On the other hand, second-generation Iraqi Jews were more familiar with Israeli society than their parents; they grew up in Israel and learned Hebrew in Israeli schools along with Ashkenazi Jews and other ethnic groups. This paper establishes connections between the historical realities of Iraqi Jewish immigrants and the literary representation of their world in the trilogy Tel-Aviv Mizrah (Tel Aviv East) written in 2003 by the Iraqi Jewish author Shimon Ballas, through a comparison of Ballas’s literary vision with the historical realities of Iraqi Jewish identity in Israel over the course of two generations.
This article asserts that politics motivated Aharon Reuveni to employ representations of psychic fragmentation and dysfunctional social institutions to portray Palestinian Jewish life in his novelistic trilogy ‘Ad Yerushalayim. These purportedly decadent representations helped him foreground individual and collective flaws he saw limiting the early twentieth-century Palestinian Jewish community’s development and promote norms he saw as conducive to growth. Thus, as examination of the trilogy’s central male figures demonstrates, Reuveni advances a Zionist masculinity grounded in introspectiveness and ongoing commitment to the achievement of communally shared goals. To further support this Zionist masculine form, the trilogy categorizes men who pursue homosocial ties with others who don’t maintain this masculinity as homosexuals. Thus gender and sexuality are used to coerce male readers into adopting specific behavioral norms. This attention to gender and sexuality’s role in early twentieth-century Palestinian Hebrew fiction offers a way to grasp its long-overlooked political character.