Liat Steir-Livny, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer. Holocaust Studies, Film Studies & Cultural Studies  


Mizrahi Jews and Holocaust Survivors in 1950s Israeli Cinema: A Revised Outlook

Liat Steir-Livny 2019

Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

The problematic representation of Mizrahi Jews in Israeli films has been extensively researched over the past few decades. The subject was first thoroughly analyzed in Ella Shohat’s comprehensive 1989 study, Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation. In her book she uses a Marxist approach, claiming that Israeli films express the views of the Ashkenazi hegemony and help preserve its supremacy. Shohat discusses the modes through which an Orientalist dichotomy dominated Eretz-Israeli and Israeli cinema from the outset. In films that portrayed an encounter between Ashkenazi Jews and Mizrahi Jews, the former represented Western values—they were rational, enlightened, and compassionate— while Mizrahi Jews were mainly depicted as primitive, inferior, and violent. Over the years, scholars have pointed to other features in the cinematic representation of Ashkenazi-Mizrahi relations in Israeli Bourekas films, which were dominant from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, but Shohat’s preliminary observations regarding an Orientalist dichotomy in the 1950s have become generally accepted in Israeli film studies. This article revisits the perceived Orientalist dichotomy through an analysis of 1950s films that focus on encounters between Mizrahi Jews and Holocaust survivors (Ashkenazi Jews) and their integration into Israeli society. These films include Tent City [Ir Ha’ohalim] (Leopold Aryeh Lahola, 1951), Faithful City [Kirya Ne’emana] (Józef Lejtes, 1952), and Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer [Givaa 24 Eina Ona] (Thorold Dickinson, 1955). The article claims that in these films Mizrahi Jews are shown as integrating more quickly than Holocaust survivors. Conversely, Holocaust survivors are presented in the films—much like they were in many other cultural realms at that time—as a broken people who ultimately assimilated, albeit with much difficulty.

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Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, Holocaust cinema, Israeli cinema


Steir-Livny, Liat. "Mizrahi Jews and Holocaust Survivors in
1950s Israeli Cinema: A Revised Outlook", Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 37, Number
2, Summer 2019, pp. 1-34

© 2014 Liat Steir-Livny. Designed by Boaz Albert