Timing is everything…including bad timing. With the Tisha B’Av still on the minds and hopefully still in the souls of a good many of us, it appears that the way we Jews interact with one another has recently become an issue. A “help wanted” ad published by a manpower company in Israel on behalf of Expose, a producer of high end swimwear blatantly states that Israelis of Ethiopian descent need not apply.
With the exception of an ever dwindling population of Holocaust survivors living in Israel, one would do well to realize that in all likelihood, the average Israeli is totally unaware of the impact as well as damage of the ad. Because the vast majority of Israelis have never seen themselves as an unwanted minority in the country in which they live, they simply cannot fathom walking past store windows where in yellow paint, would be customers are warned that this as a “Jew Store”. Those of us with a modicum of knowledge of what took place in these United States during the last seventy-five years are very much aware of “restricted” country clubs and golf courses as well the infamous “gentleman’s agreement” where in certain neighborhood residents would neither sell their homes or rent their homes to Jews. “After all, Jews would be happier living among their own”. If we need any further reminder, every so often a swastika is spray painted on the doors or wall of a synagogue or headstones of a Jewish cemetery.
Israelis live in another world – both literally and figuratively. With daily concerns of Hamas launching rockets, terrorist creating carnage and Iran threatening to wipe the Jewish State off the face of this earth, Israelis seem to have little time to worry about the feelings of other Israelis, regardless of color or background. After all, most Israelis correctly point out, it is because of “them,” that the Ethiopians were airlifted to Israel in the first place.
Israel is a cultural mosaic. And because of this, Jews of European ancestry (Ashkenazim) have for the longest time been so busy looking down and casting aspersions against Jews from Arab countries (Sfardim). It surprises me therefore, that Israelis have given anything but scant attention, if that much to those whose roots are from Ethiopia.
Was it stupid on the part of the manpower company to run such a help wanted ad? Absolutely – at least by American standards. Did Expose, the swimsuit company behind the ad, realize that it was racist and hurtful? Probably not – at least by Israeli standards.
Good taste and sensitivity vary from country to country, from culture to culture. For better or worse, Israel’s standard of what is hurtful or racist is by no means synonymous with America’s standard of what is hurtful or racist.
While the last thing in the world the government of Israel needs is advice from a rabbi in Texas who, by his own nature is loath to give advice unless it is being sought, it probably couldn’t hurt for Israeli Jews to be reminded time and time again that that they have a responsibility towards one another. Who knows – maybe one day they’ll actually learn to enjoy each others company.