The Jews actually originated in the Middle East, as Abraham is thought to have ventured forth from ancient Ur or Sumeria - today's Iraq. Jewish communities remained in the Middle East from the time of Babylon and Persia right up to the contemporary period.
Fittingly, this Sunday, Aug. 6, the Skirball Cultural Center will celebrate the Jewish cultures of the Middle East with the first Mizrahi Festival in Los Angeles.
Mizrahi Jews migrated to the countries bordering Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the First and Second Temples. These communities established synagogues, schools, prosperous businesses and cultural centers and maintained a strong Jewish identity in the region for hundreds of years. Mizrahi Jewish traditions were also influenced by later migrations of Sephardic Jews to the Middle East; thus, the terms Sephardic and Mizrahi are often used interchangeably.
Enticed by the prospects of religious freedom and financial prosperity in countries like the United States and Israel, many Mizrahi Jews left the Middle East during the 20th century, taking with them a very unique and vibrant Jewish culture that emerged as an eclectic mix of diverse traditions. Today, Mizrahi arts and cultures are flourishing in international cities across the globe.
The Skirball festival features the desert traditions of composer, violinist and oud player Yair Dalal. He will perform with the AL OL Ensemble in a piece inspired by the Judeo-Arabic musical tradition of Babylonia and with the Tarab Ensemble, Bedouin musicians from the Azazme tribe of the Negev desert. Other festival activities include a dance and music performance as well as storytelling and family art projects. At least 2,000 people are expected, festival organizers say.
Among the local Mizrahi cultural organizations present at Sunday's festival will be the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center, the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, Ivri-NASAWI, New Association of Sephardic and Mizrahi Artists and Writers International, the International Judea Foundation, and Sephardic Tradition and Recreation. Each organization representing diverse communities will be available to answer questions about Mizrahi culture and other Mizrahi events taking place throughout Los Angeles.
Sun., Aug. 6, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $8 (general admission); $6 (students/seniors); free for children under 12 and members. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (323) 655-8587 for advance tickets..